This morning I went to my volunteer school, a primary school in Sunshine, to do my author talk for Book Week. It’s not the first time I’ve done an author talk, but the first time I’ve done one for Book Week. I did it for free, because this school is a lot like mine, with many kids who come from families with no money, and I’ve had some freebies myself from generous friends, so... giving back. With luck I might get some paid gigs next year, at schools which hire me through a speaker agency. And I know now I can do it.
The school has no real school library, only a small annexe next to the Grade 6 classroom, and only the younger kids are able to use it, at lunchtime. The “classroom libraries” are not in the classrooms, but between them. Instead of a librarian, they have a woman who would be a librarian if there was any justice, the literacy co-ordinator, who does the usual literacy stuff, but also organises book purchases, Book Week activities, Scholastic Book Club and Premier’s Reading Challenge. She also has a writing extensions group for kids who love writing.
If that’s not a librarian, I don’t know what is.
And she managed to get the whole school involved, something I have never been able to do. When I arrived this morning, the whole staff, including the office lady, were in costume. This year’s theme was Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, so most staff were dressed as Oompa Loompas. There were a couple of Willy Wonkas, some Golden Tickets, at least one teacher dressed as a Wonka Bar and some dressed as Charlie’s grandparents.
There was a competition for best classroom entrance. The winning entry was Grade 5, with a river of chocolate, but the Grade 4 entrance, which I photographed, was also pretty good, with a sign that this was an Oompa Loompa workshop, and some golden tickets and a cardboard cash register.
The kids and teachers gathered outside, under a large shelter, on a beautiful late winter morning, more like spring, for the Book Parade. There were tiny Spidermen, Storm Troopers, an adorable Wonderwoman, a few Willy Wonkas, a Cat in the Hat, a dragon and the general run of princesses in tutus, one of whom turned out to be the daughter of one of our former EAL students, who startled me by calling out, “Hi, Miss! Remember me?”
After it was over, I went to talk to the kids from Grades 3-6, in the multi-purpose room. The deal was, half an hour. That’s really enough and plenty for kids, just for a talk; they get fidgety after that. I asked the Grade 4 teacher, whom I know, to give me a wind-up signal when the time came, to save me looking at my phone.
My original plan was to speak for about 15 minutes, then invite questions, but the adorable little Grade 3 kids, who were sitting at the front, started asking questions before I even started! I decided that with all those questions, I might be better off, and engage the kids more, by taking questions right away, then doing a bit of talking, then take some more. I also told them that if they had questions related to what I was talking about, they could put their hands up while I was talking. Which they did! And thankfully, I didn’t get asked about my favourite footy team or TV show, but mostly relevant and reasonable questions. There were a few “How old are you?” questions, which I avoided like a politician.
One solemn young lady, a probable nerd, asked me what was my favourite genre! I answered that one!
I remarked that I’d been told about their writing group and, in answer to another question, said that if you write, you’re an author, so we have several authors in the school.
I got a question about whether I was famous and do you become famous if you write a book. No, I said, not really famous, and no, you don’t get famous just by writing a book.
I handed out some of my mini-posters of the Crime Time cover for questions asked. I’d brought them as bribes in case the kids hesitated to ask questions, as they often do, but there was no problem. Hands were shooting up from the very beginning!
Afterwards, kids who had missed out on asking their questions were coming over to ask them, and I handed out the last of the posters.
And I had another pleasant surprise. One of the kids came over to tell me that she was the younger sister of one of my favourite library users. I remember her sister well. She was an EAL student(the younger girl has an Australian accent, but it was a long time ago). She read the entire Twilight series in four weeks, while still in EAL, telling me that she had figured out meaning from context(not using those words, of course!). She left us in Year 10, when she got a scholarship to an expensive private school she certainly couldn’t have afforded otherwise. I still, somewhere, have a bookmark signed for her by Gabrielle Wang, but she left before I could give it to her. We do communicate by email occasionally.
Afterwards, I went to the staff room to write up my Ardoch stuff and mentioned it to a couple of staff who were there, both the young mother and the sisters. One of them smiled at me and said, “You never really leave Sunshine, do you?”
No, you don’t. That includes me!