Originally published in “A Stone’s Throw” column in the South Pasadena Review 3/26/15
By Ann Suk Wang
Many become excited when a movie star or a well-known musician is seen in person. Palms may become slightly damp and the heart may pound a little faster. The rush of recognition causes even the coolest fan to quickly assess, whether to try to get an autograph, snap a quick photo with a phone, shake the celebrity’s hand, or form words of praise: “I loved you in [such and such] movie” or “Your song is the best.”
For me, I feel a bit giddy and star-struck when I have the privilege of meeting an author. Maybe it’s because we share a love for words and good story telling. Maybe it’s because I’ve spent days in their world, with their characters and their thoughts. But no matter who strikes intrigue in you, it’s probably because there’s an instant respect for whoever creates the art that moves you.
On Friday, the students of South Pasadena Middle School (SPMS) got a taste of the excitement that comes with meeting a two-time Newbery Honor-winning, National Book Award finalist, and Printz Honored author of The Wednesday Wars and Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy, Gary D. Schmidt. These awards are no joke in the children’s book publishing world. They’re the best of the best novels, chosen among all published works for youth each year.
But how did such an author find his way to SPMS? Librarian Betsy Kahn loved Schmidt’s book Okay for Now so much that she persuaded the South Pasadena Educational Foundation (SPEF) to fund the purchase of dozens of copies and distributed them so that students and staff could “read it forward” around school. Eventually she wrote Schmidt a lengthy hand-written letter about the stir his book was creating, included a photograph of herself dressed for Halloween as the hardcover copy of the book, and asked if he could possibly make a visit. Schmidt later admitted to Kahn, he just “couldn’t refuse.” So with further financial help from SPEF, Schmidt was flown to California.
When Schmidt arrived at the school on Friday, his day was packed: autographing books and pieces of paper for a winding line of students during brunch and lunch, speaking to student artists and writers, and giving two assemblies. He led a workshop about developing intriguing characters. He disclosed that he has a secret room in his home that he’s never entered because he likes the mystery, revealing a little more about him. He told a moving story that included how “The Draft” was done during the Vietnam War and how older men now, still remember “their number.” He spoke about stories starting with questions and ending with even more. All was inspiring.
As for my part in all this, I had none. I was just a parent volunteer at the library who caught wind of the Okay for Now phenomenon and was fortunate enough to see it unfold from a distance and as a parent of a pre-teen who now calls Schmidt’s writings one of his favorites.
But don’t feel too bad if you feel you missed out. Fortunately for those who live in and around South Pasadena, there are many opportunities to learn from and meet local and world-renowned authors: during events at the South Pasadena and surrounding libraries and at bookstores like Vroman’s in Pasadena and Once Upon a Time in Montrose. Check them out because these locations attract the biggest names in the industry!
The power of a book: there’s no telling where it’ll take you… maybe right to the feet of your favorite superstar author and beyond. Way beyond!