Intense, Inspiring, Insane!
Wow! Well, that was intense, inspiring and… just a little bit insane. 3 Rainforest of Reading literacy festivals, over 4 days, in 2 countries, with well over 6000 students. Under tarps in the rain, under sun in 37C heat, with soaking wet materials and–after my voice deserted me–a bullhorn. I’d intended to blog as I went but I could barely find the time to e-mail my husband never mind update the rest of the world. As for my mother, it seems she knew I was alive only thanks to the pictures of me on Facebook surrounded by said 6000 students. But would I do it again? Of course, I would. For the kids, the energy and the love of books. For Cyron, whose mother I met while walking around the plantation on which we were staying. When I mentioned the number of lizards flitting across our path, she told me that her son had just read a book about a lizard for school. In a country where many schools don’t have libraries and where most students don’t have access to books, I was surprised. She went on to tell me a story I recognized about a lizard with a blue tail who grows sad as his tail grows grey… It dawned on me far too slowly (please keep in mind that my brain had been addled by heat and exhaustion) that she was talking about MY BOOK! This was, without doubt, the moment when I was most thrilled and most honoured to have been included in a festival that puts picture books in the hands of young readers who otherwise would not have them, and that children in another part of the world, who have so few books to read, may have read and connected with mine. Of course, Suzanne and I left a copy of Skink on the Brink for Cyron–and Joyce Grant and Jan Dolby left a copy of Gabby for him too. In return, Cyron sent a thank you card to us the next day. I do wish there had been more moments like this. More moments to truly connect with each of those 6000+ young readers. It wasn’t always possible. At times, we connected through smiles and shared laughter as each and every group asked me how lizards in Canada can talk or as we sheltered together under a teacher’s umbrella while I signed their Passports to Reading. But there were other connections made too. And I get the feeling that these were very special connections, those kinds of connections that will last a lifetime. My travelling companions were among the most generous, good-natured people I have had the honour ofknowing–never mind living with for 8 days. There were the fellow authors and illustrators: Suzanne Del Rizzo, of course; Joyce Grant & Jan Dolby (creators of Gabby); Rebecca Bender (creator of Don’t Laugh at Giraffe); Kari-Lynn Winters (author of Gift Days); Eric Walters & Eugenie Fernandes (creators of My Name is Blessing); and Anita Walters, Eric’s wife and honorary author, given that she travelled everywhere with us, experienced all that we experienced and shared in the camaraderie and the bonding. I now consider each of these people a friend with whom I have shared a treasured experience. There were the students from St. John’s-Kilmarnock School who came and offered ceaseless assistance! We could not have prepped such quantities of plasticine, nor have run such high-energy, engaging craft and puzzle stations without them. And, of course, their patient, tireless–and fearless–leader, Carey Gallagher, with whom I bonded primarily over our shared travel sickness as the coach rocked and roiled through mountainous jungles. There were members of the MacLeod family. Each and every thing that needed doing, they did–through torrential downpour or scorching heat (sometimes at the same time) and with smiles on their faces. And, of course, Sonya White, Richard Clewes, and their enthusiastic daughter and student ambassador, Marlaina. I am so fortunate to have had this experience, to have shared and received so much, including so many memories that will remain with me always!