|Marsha Chall and friends|
The reason for my continued forbearance as a visiting children’s author is that most experiences defy Murphy’s Law: What can go well, does, and sometimes eclipses even my expectations. Tired feet and weakened vocal chords do not dent my conviction that an author’s presence deepens and emboldens the connection between stories and readers, enriching both author and child, so that by the end of each visit, “I am wrapped in a sweet humility of secrets” (Isak Dinesen).
As a visiting author I have found these things to be true:
- Authors create readers. Basal reading texts and worksheets might not. I visited a tiny school in Southwest Minnesota where the sole reading curriculum was, of all things, books. Reading class was conducted in the library where every child could freely choose literature to read daily. The school could not afford to buy a basal reading series, so it couldn’t afford not to use the library. These young readers created outstanding companion writing and art in preparation for my visit. They also achieved the highest reading scores in the state.
- Readers create authors. If I had never been a prodigious reader, I would not write. Reading my own work to children allows me to hear it as a reader, so that I write far more with the reader in mind. By winnowing passages from my work for oral readings, I have discovered that my best writing is what I like to read over and over and that children listen to with open faces and respond to with silence, laughter, gasps, echoes, or murmured acknowledgements. Writer and readers have connected across the arc of story. We have felt and shared our humanity.
- Authors create authors. On a deep winter day in Northern Minnesota, five middle-grade girls encircled me after my presentation. They were skipping some of their lunch period to spend time with me, hungry for something besides fish sticks. As they shared the details of their changing families—a runaway mother, a new stepfather, a smaller bedroom, horrific pet deaths, parents’ unemployment—I slowed the pace of my book signing to give them space to tell their stories. Dinesen’s words reflect the truth of this telling: “All sorrows can be borne if we put them in a story or tell a story about them.”
Marsha Wilson Chall is the author of a chapter book for children and many picture books, including Up North at the Cabin, an American Booksellers Pick of the Lists and winner of an International Reading Association Teacher’s Choice Award; Bonaparte, a Smithsonian Notable Book for Children and winner of a Parents’ Choice Silver Honor Award; and One Pup’s Up, a Bank Street College of Education Best Books, a Fred Rogers’ Best Books for Babies, and winner of a National Parenting Publications Awards (NAPPA) Gold Award.