I’ve just wrapped up three days packed with school visits for Megumi and the Bear. It has been exhausting but exhilarating. There’s nothing quite like reading to a roomful of kids so involved in the story their mouths are hanging open. Or hearing that your visit has left them so inspired they all started writing their own books. Or at the end of a session when the teacher says, ‘So who wants to be an author?’ and you’re met with a sea of hands.
Some highlights included a Kindy student asking me if I ‘sounded out my stories’. How gorgeous is that! And the Year 1 student who said, ‘I love your book. Can I have your phone number?’ Later she prompted, ‘Do you know your phone number? Because I really need to get it.’
But perhaps the most amusing moment occurred when a Year 3 student asked me when my first story was published. When I replied ‘1998’ the kids—all 100 of them—let out a collective ‘wooooah’. That was, like, back in the olden days! Later their teacher told me they had been planning to ask me what year I was born until she explained that would be rude. Lucky she headed them off. They may well have needed resuscitation.
Then there are the moments that confirm how important it is for authors to go into schools. At Wanniassa Hills Primary a Year 2 student told me about the chapter book she is writing, adding sheepishly, ‘I don’t know where it’s going until I write it.’ I told her I’m exactly the same and that a famous author (Roger McDonald) once said to me that if you write knowing the ending it often doesn’t work (in his words, ‘it’s a dead hand’). The look on her face at receiving that validation just made my day.
At Palmerston Primary a Year 4 student told me about the series she has been writing and asked me how to find a publisher. She was articulate and determined. It was a great moment to be able to offer her both encouragement and advice. I may very well have just met a future author.
Another pleasure is being asked questions that really make me think, or listening to the children’s thoughtful observations. For example, on the front cover Megumi and the Bear lie in the snow holding hands, making an ‘M’ shape. M for Megumi. I’d never noticed that before. But a seven-year-old at Narrabundah Early Childhood School did.
At Turner Primary I launched their Artists’ and Writers’ Festival with three sessions. The eight-day festival is playing host to an impressive line-up of artists, including bestselling writer Anthony Hill and cartoonist David Pope. Not surprisingly, the school was bursting with budding writers. When I told them about how I started writing books at home when I was six, they got very excited and told me about all the books they were writing. What a joy that was. I would love to see more primary schools developing similar programs that allow kids to engage with books and reading in such a dynamic way. The best learning happens when everyone’s having so much fun it doesn’t feel like ‘learning’ at all.
I could keep raving about what a wonderful time I’ve had these past few days but I’m going to finish with this. A Kindy student who came up to me at the end of my session and said, ‘I LOVE your story’ and threw her arms around me. It doesn’t get better than that.
The Megumi and the Bear drawing competition is now underway. Download the sheet here for your child’s chance to win one of eight prizes, including teddy bears, books, a tea party for four, a baking pack, and book vouchers. Craig Phillips will be judging the competition with me. Entries close Friday 6 September.