Last month at the Texas Library Association conference, I had the opportunity to attend a session with multiple authors talking about writing historical fiction. Deborah Wiles was on the panel. I’ve know “Debbie” for several years now. I first heard her at the Decatur Book Festival, and when she spoke, she created a magical presence with her words. When she speaks, she truly breathes story into the air. Hearing her speak and reading the words that she writes on the pages of her books gives me such a connection to her southern spirit and reminds me of growing up in the rural town of Blue Ridge. About five years ago, Deborah Wiles came to Barrow Elementary as my very first author visit. She sang One Wide Sky with PreK-1st grade and had upper grades writing in their imaginary journals. She even led a professional learning session for teachers after school. When, I saw Debbie in Texas she told me that she wanted to stop by and see the new media center, so we setup a time.
Since she was already stopping by, I asked her if she would like to meet our 5th grade battle of the books students since they had read Countdown for their competition. I’m so glad that we decided to do that because today’s visit was simply magical.
While she was stuck in traffic, the 5th graders worked on making her some birthday cards for when she arrived. We also displayed the blackout poetry that we had made using Freedom Summer and Revolution.
When she arrived today, she took a seat in the rocking chair that my dad made and started sharing stories. She let the students talk to her about reading Countdown. The depth of their conversation made me realize how different an author visit can be when the students have not only read the books but also spent extensive time discussing them.
The students talked about the complexity of her plots, the character traits of their favorite characters, and shared specific details of scenes that seemed suspenseful. In fact, some of the scenes that students chose to describe were some of the very scenes that were the most difficult for Deborah Wiles to write.
Next, she showed us lots of pictures of where Countdown came from. The students loved seeing the real places that inspired the story. They also loved seeing how the title and cover art for the book changed and how the editor gave Deborah Wiles feedback on her work.
Before students went back to class, we told her “Happy Birthday” and gave her some cards and artwork. She spent time signing books that students pre-ordered from Avid Bookshop and chatting more with students about books and writing.
While she was signing, we enjoyed birthday cake that she brought for us to enjoy!
Before she left, we spent some time roaming around the school and looking at how much it had changed since the last time she was here. Now, she will go to Avid Bookshop for a signing this afternoon at 4:30.
The students are all very eager to read Revolution, which publishes on May 27th. I gave away 2 ARCs of Revolution today as well as some copies of Countdown. We are so thankful to Deborah Wiles for driving to Athens and spending time with us today. The students could have listened to her for the rest of the day. We can’t wait to see her back in our library soon.