Newbery award winner and New York Times bestselling author

Posts tagged ‘Washington DC’

My favorite MLK celebration: the Virginia way

MLK_Memorial_NPS_photoThis weekend I traveled from one corner of Virginia to the other – from the rural mountains of Farmville all the way to Arlington/Washington DC area. I can’t think of a better way to have celebrated the spirit of Martin Luther King Day.

logoMy first stop on Saturday was in Farmville. I was invited by the folks behind the Virginia Children’s Book Festival to tour  the Moton Museum and other sites for the upcoming VCBF (Oct 16 – 17, 2015). The Museum, as part of its commitment to children in the Farmville area, is a founding partner in the festival.

The Moton is also an absolute gem. It’s the former Moton High School – and the historic site of a student walkout led by 16-year-old Barbara Johns and fellow students who demanded better conditions. Their case eventually got picked up by civil rights attorney Oliver Hill and became part of the five cases that made up Brown v. Board of Education. 

Justin Reid, the museum’s associate director for operations, led us through the exhibits, which are a visual chronology of Virginia’s role in the early civil rights movement. Many of the families who were part of movement – as well as those who wished to keep schools segregated – still live in Farmville.  Prince Edward County participated in Massive Resistance, of course, shuttering schools rather than integrating, so there is an especially poignant personal element to all the photos and artifacts. But there’s also a spirit of forward movement and strength. Places like the Moton are our best hope to forge reconciliation and understanding. They tell our most difficult stories as a country through the personal stories of the people who lived them.  If you haven’t been to the Moton, put it on your list.

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A.B. Westrick, Gigi Amateau, and me getting ready to take our seats in the theater. We were in the second row!

When we think of people whose rights have historically been ignored, we can certainly include young people with disabilities, too. On Sunday, I had the pleasure of traveling  to DC with my pals Gigi Amateau and A.B. Westrick. We went to see Mockingbird, a family theater performance at The Kennedy Center. I’d never been to the Kennedy Center, so that felt like a thrill in  and of itself. But even better, we were there to see our friend’s book performed as theater. The play, adapted by Julie Jensen and directed by Tracy Callahan, is based on Mockingbird, winner of the 2010 National Book Award, and written by our friend (and fellow Virginia author) Kathy Erskine.  We were crazy proud. Really, all we were missing were pom-poms.

The play captured the delicate balance of grief, hope, and healing that Kathy laid out in her novel. Told through the eyes of Caitlin, a girl with autism, the play allows the audience inside the  heart and mind of a young woman whose challenges can easily keep her isolated. It is by turns hilarious and touching – but also unerringly true about grief, families, and love. Everything from the use of technology in the set design to the nuanced performance by Dylan Silver in the lead role was absolutely perfect. I’ll tell you right here, bring tissues.  The play runs through Feb.1. Tickets are $20.  Highly recommended.

mockingbird

A Day at Marie Reed Elementary School

Last Thursday, I trekked up to DC to spend a day at Marie Reed Elementary School in Adams Morgan.

View from my seat on Amtrak

Four years into my life as a published author and I’ve realized that I’d rather do a thousand school visits than a book signing, which for me are often skimpy on attendance. There’s something about being around little people with no teeth that is much more satisfying.

Marie Reed is a lovely school, if a little oddly appointed. (Partitions offer a reminder of the open education experiment of the 1960s.) Truly, if Christine Reuss, my host, hadn’t been with me, I would never have found my way around. There’s a surprise around every corner. They have a garden that Michelle Obama planted to help them attract butterflies, and they have murals of the late salsa goddess Celia Cruz (¡azucar!) and Supreme Court justice Sonia Sotomayor. The auditorium is an amphitheater.

What I loved most about this little gem of a school, though, is that it offers both an English only and a dual language curriculum. This seems so much more sensible to me than trying to teach a language in middle school, when we all know that their tongues go thick and their courage, thin. To see an Asian kindergarten student rattling off “Asi Baila Juanito” like a native is about the loveliest thing I can imagine.

I read to the students, told them about how I wrote Tia Isa Wants a Car and Milagros.Then I listened to their songs and dances, and got treated to a writing project where students wrote – in Spanish or English – something they wanted to work hard to achieve – just the way Tia Isa had worked hard to get her car. Counting to big numbers. Reading for a long time. The list was impressive.

But maybe what I will remember most is the part of our day when I asked the kindergarten and first graders where they would go if they could have a car. Chuckie Cheese was a popular choice. Also, the beach. But one little girl came down the steps to where I was standing with my microphone.

“¿Donde quizieras ir en tu carro? Where would you want to go in your car?

“I would go to El Salvador to see my family,” she said. “I miss them.”

I thought of her the whole train ride home.

Meg’s next appearances:  SCBWI Midatlantic Conference, Arlington, VA, Oct.22 

Holladay Elementary School, Henrico, VA, Monday, Oct. 24