“This Is a Book That May Change Someone’s Life”
The past week has been insanely busy because it’s the end of the semester and the beginning of the book festival season. Two days ago, I had to hand in my final version of what turned out to be a 16-page story for my Portuguese class, and I had to give a presentation on it–in Portuguese–for up to an hour. Including Q & A, I took that hour, but that happened in large part because I speak slowly, and I kept going back and correcting myself. It was a bit disconcerting to see the professor write something in her notebook every time I misspoke or mispronounced something, but once I got to the half-page reading from my story, I pretty much stopped looking at her. Then things went a lot more smoothly.
Two days before the report was the Albany Children’s Book Festival. I’ve had an author table for all five years that the festival has taken place, and once again I had a great time. I read the short first chapter of Rogue and talked a little about the experience that prompted the story’s beginning. (You can read that chapter on Rogue‘s Amazon page, and everything there happened to me, up to the point when Kiara picked up the tray.) I also talked with the wonderful folks who stopped by my table.
One of the nice things about tabling at a book festival is that you can get to know the folks who stop by and get an idea of what kinds of books they’re looking for. I brought my Lego X-Men, so I had a lot of third grade boys who came by, and I had to tell their parents that they’ll have to wait a couple of years before reading Rogue. When my publisher says Grade 5 and up, they mean it.
And then there was the mom with her two middle school-aged kids–an older sister and her younger brother. When I explained what the book was about, the girl picked it up immediately. She’s an eighth grader who has been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, as has her brother in sixth grade. The girl started reading the book, the mom bought it, and the girl briefly let me have the book to sign it. An hour later, the mom passed by my table again along with the boy. She told me her daughter had gone off to a quiet corner to read because she couldn’t put Rogue down. She was so happy to read a book about someone just like her, written by someone just like her. And I began to believe that this is a book that may change someone’s life.
And that is the most important thing. Beyond the hyped books of the most popular authors are the books that speak to individual readers, the ones that change lives. Young people who face special challenges deserve to have books that speak to their experiences and let them know they are not alone. I didn’t read a lot of fiction when I was a teenager because I didn’t find books that portrayed my experiences. Most of what I read was nonfiction that satisfied my thirst to learn more about the world. I am glad to see that young readers have more choices today than what I had growing up, but I still think there’s more to be done, particularly in providing books by authors who share their readers’ diverse backgrounds and experiences.