Posted by: jeannineatkins | March 8, 2011

Thank you, Paton School

Today I spoke to first through fourth graders in Shrewsbury about writing, and what a patient and thoughtful audience they were. At the end of each talk I had the honor of announcing awards for reading, and the glow of pride on some winners’ faces was heartwarming, as well as the enthusiastic applause from their peers. Outstanding classes of readers won pizza parties, and those who’d quietly listened to me went momentarily just a little wild with delight.

It was fun to meet a teacher who’d heard me talk nine years ago, bought MARY ANNING AND THE SEA DRAGON then and more recently ANNE HUTCHINSON’S WAY, and asked the principal to get copies for all the second grade classrooms. “I’d much rather teach history like this than through a textbook,” she told me. I hope she guessed how much that made my already-made day. Here are two of her students with a diagram they made to compare the two picture books.

I hope I inspired the students as much as they inspired me, asking good questions about the lives of characters beyond the last page. I was asked about the books I wrote that were never published, and appreciated the empathetic gasps when I described piles quite taller than my stack of published books. But when I was asked if I knew which of my old unpublished manuscripts I’d most like to see as a book, I didn’t hesitate to name one I put in a drawer years ago, and felt my heart widen as I thought of how those characters deserve their chance. Some manuscripts just needed to be written, but this one wants out of the drawer, and I’m putting it in line for a revival. As someone who’s been nursing a recent rejection wound, I was glad to be reminded that a single no thanks does not mean the end of a book’s life. 

There were great questions about origins and process, but today I appreciated those that sent me back to my desk drawers and possibility. Writing involves many roadblocks as well as successes. Writing is hardly ever finished. But the kind questions of friends and once-strangers keep us going.



  1. Hooray for that manuscript coming back out of the drawer! And for kids inspiring you right back!

  2. Those students made a Venn diagram–I’m impressed. I have two stories like you describe, that need another chance. Mine will have to go to the back of the line, but at least they’re being reconsidered.

  3. What a charming photograph! So happy to hear about that widening of the heart, and the rustling in the drawer.

  4. Next time sounds great! Frankly four talks kind of wiped me out, but I’m sure if I saw you my mouth would have started up with talk all over again!

  5. Oh, those kids. Even if the questions weren’t as great as they were, those bright soft faces are as great as seeing signs of spring.

  6. Yes, those kids have one amazing teacher.
    I’m glad you have some stories, and wish our lines might be a little shorter. The more I think of this one, and I’m trying to focus on who’s now on stage, the more I want to nudge it ahead. But I’m aware that could be a sneaky way of not finishing the work in progress, so will just repeat: wait your turn!

  7. This entire school seemed filled with kids who were both engaged and well behaved. What a treat for a visiting author.
    And that rustling, that heart-widening: my first thought went to the tucked-away book we discussed as we walked around Concord, and your words got my heart pitter-pattering again. There’s a book and a half to be finished first, or at least half a one, but… my hands are starting to itch.
    Thank you again for that walk, and the memory. Hope you’re seeing more coming up in your garden. We’re just happy here about slush and roofs without piles of snow.

  8. Oh, so lovely to hear that it’s *that* book! And I think it’s you I should thank for that memory. I don’t know which gave me more pleasure that day, walking and talking books with you by Old North Bridge, or quietly writing in your gentle company over soup and tea in the back of the cafe. You really lifted my heart that day — as you so often do, even now.

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