Clicks from the Hold Fast Train
I began speaking and traveling, talking about Hold Fast
, in January of 2013. Events were added to events as the months rolled on. By June, the Hold Fast train -- as everyone at Scholastic began to call it -- had chugged into over seventeen cities; I'd been from Chicago to Houston, Dallas, Washington, D.C., New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Nashville and a number of cities closer to home, like Naperville and Woodstock and Kankakee and North Utica.
This blur of planes, cars and hotels came together into an amazing experience, as I was able to see Hold Fast
welcomed by thousands of kids of many backgrounds and ages, libraries, social service agencies, urban planners, teachers, and teachers of teachers. I'd never expected such a wild reception for this unusual story. Hold Fast
even hit the New York Times bestseller list in May.
Here are some clicks:
|A cake in Houston|
|Wonderful St. Louis|
|Hold Fast meets Chasing Vermeer tattoos, New York.|
|Sizzling day at LA Times Festival of Books|
|Colorful Palo Alto, California|
|Closing Keynote, American Planning Association|
National Planning Conference, Chicago
|Room full of urban and regional planners|
|Django is not pleased that I'm on the road|
|"Don't you dare pick up this pen!" |
|Visiting Hicklebee's Books, San Jose|
|Signing books at Hicklebee's . . .|
|and then the wall|
and I have had a winter and spring to remember.
Three Cheers for E.L.K. (1930 - 2013)
E. L. Konigsburg was a very special
person in my life. Sadly, I never met
her, but it feels as though I’d known her forever. I was twelve years old when my mother gave me
The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E.
Frankweiler for my birthday. Quite
honestly, it blew my mind: it took place in a museum I knew, not too far from
where I was growing up in New York City; it had big, exciting ideas about real
art; it had independent characters who were treated as though they knew how to
think, and think they did. I read that
book again. And later, as a parent and a
teacher, again. And again.
I do think that book changed my
life. It changed how I thought about
the world around me.
I might not have gotten an art
history degree if not for The Mixed-Up
Files; I might never have written Chasing
Vermeer. Ever since my first mystery
came out in 2004, I’ve talked about how much Konigsburg’s work has meant to me,
and about how instrumental what you read as a kid can be in determining who you
become. I do believe that the words and
stories absorbed early in life can matter deeply.
Yesterday Hold Fast, my fifth mystery, hit the New York Times bestseller
list. Would it be there without E. L.
Konigsburg? Would I be writing today if not
for The Mixed-Up Files? A great many things might not have happened.
Thank you, Mrs. Konigsburg, for all
you’ve given me and generations of other devoted fans. A book that gives you yourself, no matter who
you are, is truly something.
Angels and Heroes in Plain Sight
This is a shout-out for the angels and heroes of the book
All who publish books know who
these bigger-than-life folks are. They
know who they are.
But can the reading public identify these Clark
(Excuse the retro reference, but I
always liked his glasses and the nonchalant way he whipped them off.
I think his specs may be back in style.)
Just in case, here goes:
these heroes and angels are the people in the independent bookstores
around the U.S., and the librarians in our public libraries and schools.
They are angels because they are champions of
the art of reading; they recommend, they guide, they educate without demanding.
Most do a heroic amount of heavy
Witness the owners of independent
bookstores, who always have strong backs.
They lug books into schools while ferrying the visiting author, they
even lug books to libraries, through many a dark and stormy night, or at the
very least through dinnertime…
They often supply
Lynes, owner of Read Between the Lynes,
Woodstock, Illinois. (photo by
The librarians read tirelessly.
They sift and sort.
They answer questions from all ages and with
They take care of authors
and make libraries the hands-down heart of a school or a community.
Like the indie booksellers, they work
overtime. They change lives by supplying the just-right book at the just-right
time; they bear witness to the power of the written word.
Angels. Heroes. I am currently doing a great deal of travel
for Hold Fast, and am reminded, just
about daily, of how great these people really are. They have wings and super-powers.
Don’t be fooled – they’re hiding in plain sight.
Holding on for Hold Fast
These days, I’m holding on for Hold Fast;
it’s a traveling
spring. Over the past few weeks, I’ve
visited many schools in many places and will continue to travel through
April. I am at my most relaxed when with
kids, and I have been hearing many surprising, excellent and touching
questions. In addition, I’ve heard or
read heart-warming, startlingly wonderful comments from sources of all ages,
and at all times of day -- in schools, bookstores and library talks, in a flow
of reviews, in outspoken and beautifully-written online blogs.
I’m not good at taking pictures at each school I visit – I
wish I were. I’m all in the moment, the
moment is over, I’m back in a car, and whoosh!
Life goes on. However, last week
I was in a public school near downtown St. Louis that was so unusual that I
need to share some of what I saw. There
is much in the news these days about public schools and what’s wrong with
them. Sometimes there is lots right.
I walked into the Maplewood Richmond Heights Elementary
School, in Richmond Heights, Missouri, and stopped. What – a Banksy-inspired painting? A close-to-Lichtenstein? An unusual piece of art designed to honor and
support a center for homeless boys?
This is a school with social justice overtones that
structures projects around a theme each year, supporting their budget with
grants and the input of local artists. This year, the theme was exploring the idea and
metaphor of ‘School as Museum’, and the kids had painted, built, researched and
designed some amazing exhibits. The
topics were issues they felt needed some museum attention, like bullying; the
environment; drug use in neighborhoods; poverty in the world around us. Kids
were obviously building and documenting knowledge using real-world issues and
problems, and I could see that Ms. Hussey and I, if we’d been invited to teach
there, could have jumped right in.
In this photo, a group of sixth graders pose in front of an
exhibit which studies both interrelated facts and some proposed solutions to poverty
I was on a schedule and couldn’t stay long, but the whiff of
powerful yet heartfelt critical thinking that I witnessed there is still with
me. After my talk, I grabbed my phone
and took these pictures. For anyone
wanting to get a close look at an awesome constructivist curriculum in a public
school setting, I say, Go to St. Louis! Visit the MRH kids, as they call
themselves. Hold fast for some powerful
And, by the way, the kids seemed pretty excited about Hold Fast, which makes me happy.
Ouch, Oof: the Battle of Fiction vs. Nonfiction
I’ve just returned from the National Council of Teachers of
English Annual Convention, one with strands reaching into the lives of teachers,
librarians, academics, university students and lifelong learners. It’s a fabulous gathering of thinkers and
word-lovers, and again and again I heard the tension in conversation about the
looming public school Core demands, and the place–if any–of fiction in
the structure of that upcoming Core curriculum.
Fiction and nonfiction are slugging it out behind closed doors. I’ve just read a marvelous New York Times
article called, What Should Children Read? http://nyti.ms/RXKCQi
It inspired me. As it isn’t fiction, is there irony
here? Nah, behind all inviting
nonfiction lies a story.
These are odd times.
It used to be that fiction and nonfiction carried equal weight as
complimentary ingredients in a school curriculum; they were also the salt and
pepper, or maybe the oil and vinegar, that seasoned lots of less intriguing but
healthy stuff, at least for those students who weren’t math and science stars. Both fiction and nonfiction shared stories
that gave you a reason to gather necessary skills and tools -- tools that would
send you out into the world one day as a capable communicator and wage-earner
Not to overdo the cooking metaphor, but everyone likes to
taste and eat, and… well, I see my job
as a fiction writer, one whose work often appears in schools, as this: I’m a maker of good smells in the learning
kitchen. I try to leave readers of any age hungry. To make anyone who reads my mysteries want to
dig and explore further, and to ask more questions. (I should also mention that my books don’t
fit neatly into the category of either ‘mysteries’ or ‘fiction’ as they always seem
to be packed with facts and real-world ideas.
Facts, after all, are the best teasers in our puzzling times.) I wish I heard the messy word ‘inspiration’
being mentioned in talk of school reform as much other multisyllabic terms like
‘data-driven instruction’ and ‘high-stakes assessment.’ I feel this is a
mistake, simplistic as it sounds.
I believe the job of fiction in our schools should be to
make readers curious about non-fiction, to make them love the process of
following words and ideas, and to make the world at large feel more
relevant. Fiction has the power,
ironically, to make nonfiction come alive.
There. I’ve thumped
the podium. And waved my spoon.
I’m clearly not in the habit of blogging, but sometimes I’m
moved to say, Yes! Yes! Here’s an essay
on career choices that is such wonderful advice for people of any age that I
have to point wildly to it: http://nyti.ms/QlPHiD
This story sure resonates with my past; although I wanted to
be a writer, I couldn’t seem to make a living doing it, and so I did many other
things. The most demanding of these
things was teaching young kids, which had never been a part of my original
Author Plan. Lo and behold, as I let go
of writing dreams and learned to teach, something very odd happened: I grew
from feeling I wasn’t a natural in the classroom to loving it, then eventually
writing about it, which brought me back to my earliest passion. I’d arrived at my goal by leaving it
behind. In addition, I’d found a new passion
that could coexist with my oldest one.
I think that doing the very best you can on almost anything
is, in itself, a liberating process, and can open many unexpected doors. Perhaps at the moment you lose sight of where
you thought you wanted to go, the journey really begins.