word craft


Is Anyone Connecting?

The first time I vis­it­ed a class—in my capac­i­ty as an author—was in 1970. Since then, I have nev­er stopped vis­it­ing class­es, in per­son, and these days also by Zoom and Google Meet. I won’t even begin to guess how many class­rooms I’ve entered, or how many stu­dents with whom I’ve engaged. Still, one of the ques­tions that always remains—after every visit—what impact do I make? Do I con­nect with anyone?

human connections

Almost always there are the vis­i­bly engaged kids, hands con­stant­ly pop­ping up who have end­less ques­tions, or who come for­ward after to ask (or tell) me some­thing that they feel is impor­tant. These enthu­si­as­tic young peo­ple are always fun and engag­ing, but one sens­es (in a good way) that they are enthu­si­as­tic about many things, are not shy, and are free to come forward.

The oth­er day I was speak­ing at a small teacher’s con­fer­ence when one of the teach­ers (in her for­ties?) approached and said, “When I was in sixth grade you came to my class. I nev­er for­got it.” By way of proof she showed me a bat­tered paper-back copy of Cap­tain Grey, which I had signed for her.

In truth, bro­ken-backed, dog-eared books, long held, much read, are some­times pre­sent­ed to me as proof of a long con­nec­tion to my work. Folks are often embar­rassed about show­ing them to me, but I love to see them. They are like buried treasure.

But what about the silent kids? The shy ones? The ones who seem to just sit there with what appears to be a pas­sive look?

Recent­ly, some­one sent me an arti­cle from the NY University’s Cen­ter for Pub­lish­ing. It was a blog post pub­lished April 23. 2018. Writ­ten by Gretchen Lida (some­one I have nev­er met). It was titled “Avi’s Army of Dyslex­ic Writers.”

Ms. Lida described her ear­ly strug­gles as some­one with dyslex­ia. Then she wrote:

“The first time I knew I could be a writer was when I saw the children’s book author Avi give a pre­sen­ta­tion in an ele­men­tary school gym. There, among the smell of old sweat, gym shoes, and what­ev­er cologne cus­to­di­ans use to make a place smell like a pub­lic school, Avi pre­sent­ed slides of his school papers. They bled with notes about slop­pi­ness, lazi­ness, messi­ness. They had bad grade after bad grade.

“‘If he could be a writer,’ I thought, ‘so could I.’

“Like me, Avi has symp­toms of dyslex­ia; his par­ents hid it so his teach­ers wouldn’t treat him like he was stu­pid. I am from a dif­fer­ent gen­er­a­tion than Avi, and while the stig­ma I expe­ri­enced was far less than Avi’s, it was the pain that we shared that stitched the mem­o­ry of that screen onto my brain. Our shared dyslex­ia was as vivid as climb­ing the rat-lines on the ship in The True Con­fes­sions of Char­lotte Doyle, and as snarky as the por­cu­pine in his nov­el, Pop­py.”

Need­less to say, I found Gretchen’s Lida’s words touch­ing. But it was also a reminder what I—and the legion of my writer colleagues—can do when we talk to kids. The silent kids.

There is one oth­er way—when I vis­it schools—that I can tell if I have made an impres­sion. It hap­pened the oth­er day when I was in a school. After I made a pre­sen­ta­tion (to about 500 kids) I was wan­der­ing the halls. A cou­ple of girls walked by. As they passed me they called, “Hi, Avi.”

New friends. Connected.

4 thoughts on “Is Anyone Connecting?”

  1. I real­ly appre­ci­ate this, tak­ing time to see how and when peo­ple con­nect — with writ­ers, with you. Thanks.

  2. I remem­ber Avi com­ing to my school in Nor­man, OK. I loved his books and actu­al­ly wrote a few let­ters to Avi. I’m 48 and a moth­er of two teenage girls now. Still to this day I strong­ly encour­age that being able to read is a bless­ing and to write as well. Some peo­ple strug­gle to read and write. I have always enjoyed being able to read. So good to hear that Avi still does school vis­its. Avi- we need you at Hunt­ing­burg Ele­men­tary!! In Hunt­ing­burg, IN. I work there as a preschool assis­tant but we have an excel­lent librar­i­an at our school. We would love for you to come and talk with our students.


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