I was born in Berkeley, and lived in nearby Orinda, California until I was five years old. I remember mostly the enormous banana slugs, getting stung by a bee, my red pedal car, our suicidal goose, and the Day It Snowed. That’s right. Snow in Orinda. Back then, the locals said it happened once every four years. I don’t know if that still holds. Anyway, my dad and I (mostly him, I’m sure) made a snowman—a small snowman. It was gone by late afternoon, but it was real.
I know—you want to know about the suicidal goose, but those who know me well know to never ask me for a childhood animal story. They never end well.
Last week, I returned to the Bay Area. Candlewick, my publisher, teamed me up with middle-grade sci-fi writer Jenn Reese for four days of schools, bookstores, and libraries. We had an exhausting, fun, and rewarding week. I was reminded again and again how smart and passionate teenagers are, and the same goes for the teachers and librarians who dedicate their working lives to helping them.
I was also reminded that middle schools are a petri dish for all manner of communicable diseases. Yeah, the coughing started 48 hours after I got home. A hazard of the trade. But I’m glad I went. Those students, they are my people. No matter how hard I try to grow up, a big part of me remains in middle school.
Our first few visits were organized by Patty Norman at Copperfield’s Books. The Petaluma store is one of the nicest bookstores I’ve ever been in. They have a huge inventory in a big, open space that somehow feels intimate and comfortable. Here’s a shot of a young man engrossed in one of Jenn Reese’s books.
Hicklebee’s, a children’s bookstore in San Jose, was equally impressive, though in a different way. This is a store you can get lost in searching for oddball souvenirs and graffiti left by visiting authors. And they had a most impressive display in front of the store.
Books, Inc., “The West’s Oldest Independent Bookseller,” helped us out with the last couple of school visits, but we didn’t have time to visit their stores.