The flight into the Pittsburgh airport began my journey to Youngstown’s English Festival. Marge Ford, one of the festival committee members and ALAN Treasurer (and a whole lot more!) picked me up, fed me, took me to the back to do some ALAN business, and dropped me at the hotel to freshen up. A bit later, Dr. Rebecca Barnhouse, one of the faculty and part of the festival AND an author of one of the books the kids read this year (THE COMING OF THE DRAGON which I highly recommend), transported us to the home of Gary Salvner, festival head honcho, former Executive Secretary of ALAN, and all around chief cook and bottle washer and warm and gracious host. Pot luck buffet tables groaned. I ate, talked books with others, and generally laughed and enjoyed the company. Back to the hotel for some work before bedtime.
Day One starts at a reasonable hour. We gather on the campus of YSU which we learn is home of the penguins. There are penguin statues everywhere. Some are carved from wood, others are sculpted from various metals: all shapes and sizes and colors. Laurie Halse Anderson and I spend a few moments snapping photos and tweeting them out.
Then, Laurie is off to hang with the kids studying how to be a good journalist and I get to address the first adult group of the day, a blend of parents, teachers, and librarians. I had met some of them the previous night at a wonderful pot luck dinner hosted by Gary Salvner and his wife. We get underway. Things appear to be running smoothly. This is VERY familiar territory for me, talking about supporting and encouraging readers. Then, somehow I realize I have loaded the wrong power point onto my thumb drive. As I fumble to change computers and drives, I take questions and, I hope, answer them reasonably. The session ends well. Sigh of relief. Laurie Halse Anderson comes into the room to talk to the same group. She is, of course, wonderful: to the point, honest, irreverent at turns.
Quick lunch, then across campus to another building. We enter a huge ballroom that has been set up end to end with rows of chairs. In flow the largest group of high school kids I have seen in some time. I think there are thousands of them. How will they react to my presentation? II sure will not be asking for discussion in this room. The presentation on how to find the next good book goes well. Some kids stop on the way out to ask questions. A new group files in. I do the presentation with a few tweaks. It seems to work. Then, back up the hill to the awards assembly. Now all the kids are in one room. Gary Salver reads the names of all the kids who have won awards for writing, art, and music. They file across the stage and receive their awards along with handshakes from me, Laurie, and some of the other Festival workers and coordinators.
Day 1 ends with a dinner with the Dean and Provost. I get to sit at the table with the dean and a group of English professors. Never have I enjoyed a conversation about grammar and sentence structure and literature more. Back to the hotel. Fall into bed.
Day #2 opens with a new group of adults. This time I have the right presentation loaded! Hurray! I listen to Laurie and then head to a quick lunch. Following lunch, I do a half hour interview with one of the English faculty that will air on the university radio station. The afternoon is two more sessions, this time to junior high kids. I change the presentation for the second go round. By then they have visited with Laurie and need something different. I decide to tell them the Grimm version of Cinderella. They respond with incredible enthusiasm. I think I have figured out how to set up this presentation to a cast of thousands more effectively. Another awards presentation. Dinner is on campus with YSU English faculty and local teachers and leaders of the local NCTE affiliate. I get to talk to Mary Arnold, librarian extraordinary. Gary and I have the chance to talk, too. Relaxed, warm, hospitable and not a liitle bit of laughter from all those there all of whom are exhausted. Back to hotel. Sleep good.
And now it is Day #3. Morning session with adults includes the family of one of the folks who endowed the conference. They decide I am terrific because their daughter has a long list of books from my presentation. Laurie is up next. Then lunch, a quick video interview and off to the final two middle school sessions of the day. I have hit my stride despite my fatigue. Last award presentation. Lovely drive to the airport and time to read.
Kudos to the folks who spend so much time and care putting this all together. Terry, Pat, Lou, Steve, Molly, Nicky, Andrea (and I am missing names; it is due to fatigue I assure you), and all of you: I felt so appreciated and honored. I hope to come back some time and just sit and watch.
A final note: I wish we could clone this conference (which means cloning all those who work so hard to get it prepared and run) and take it from sea to shining sea. This is all that is RIGHT with education, right here in a nutshell. For everyone who will say kids don’t read and teachers don’t care and unions are bad: go to the YSU conference and see what all is RIGHT.