When Rebecca Stead Reached Us

Alison Morris - March 19, 2010

Our store had the great, great honor of playing host to Rebecca Stead for two school visits and one public event when Random House graciously sent her our way at the beginning of last month. We had been looking forward to her visit for months, but the excitement of having her here was increased exponentially following the announcement that When You Reach Me had been awarded the Newbery Medal! Yeehaw!
In my nine years at Wellesley Booksmith we’ve hosted a LOT of events with amazing people, but our visit with Rebecca will surely go down as one of my favorites, in part because she is just so, so lovely, and in part because there was a magical energy that came from her having *just* won the highest possible honor for a novel we had been championing to our customers from day one and watching them respond to with such great enthusiasm. More than 100 enthusiastic fans turned out for our public event, which is about 10 times more than we’d normally get for an author who has so far published just two books, and the schools that hosted Rebecca pulled out all the stops.
Pasted below are photos from what was a truly wonderful 2 days! If life was the “$20,000 Pyramid,” the memories listed here would appear in the category “Moments You’d Like to Go Back and Relive.” (You can also read Rebecca’s notes on her visits with us and other bookstores on her blog.)
Stop number one on our Rebecca Stead mini-tour was Sprague Elementary in Wellesley, where she was greeted, upon her arrival, by this somewhat peculiar sign… Hmm… (Congratulations $2.00 Bills? What?)
The welcome she received inside was a bit less cryptic.
And the welcome she received from librarian Ellen Mandel needed NO deciphering! (Who doesn’t speak the language of homemade chocolate chip cookies??)
While at Sprague, Rebecca spoke to the 4th and 5th graders, all of whom had either read When You Reach Me or listened to the entire book as it was read aloud to them by their teachers. I can’t tell you how amazing it was to have a school go to such lengths to prepare their students for an author’s visit!! (Thank you, Principal Donna Dankner!) It was especially beneficial in the case of When You Reach Me, as the book contains so many secrets. On this one rare occasion, Rebecca was able to discard all worries about having to dance around possible spoilers. During this visit she could answer ANY question fully and honestly, which she did! I learned a lot of great background bits about my favorite plot points and characters at this point during the day. What a treat!
At the end of Rebecca’s presentation, she was presented with a big plastic barrel, which was the brainchild of wonderful, always enthusiastic teacher Moe Henzel. In it were notes from all of Sprague’s 4th and 5th graders. On one side of each note was the image of a $2 bill. On the other was a student’s prediction for Rebecca’s future.
I am dying to know what things they thought she ought to be preparing herself for! Below, Rebecca shares one of the predictions with a Sprague parent who helped coordinate her visit to the school.
And NOW… Have you figured out why that “welcome” sign for Rebecca was so odd? The visible mention of “$2.00 Bills” was intended to be a clue. Rebecca left clues throughout her book for them — it seemed only right that they should leave clues for her too! (I love it.)
One more Sprague thing: Each year members of the outgoing 5th grade class create small paper self-portraits of themselves that one of their teachers then arranges and pastes together in group photo style to create a “class portrait” composed of individual self-portraits, like this one of the Class of 2009, below. The resulting piece is framed and hung in the school’s main stairwell, where all future classes pass by them on a daily basis, and where we passed by them on our visit too. While it’s true that it’s much harder to look at these representations years later and say, “Why that must be Susie Hackenbock! I’d know her anywhere!” these class portraits feel so much more personal and so much more lively, too — maybe because each of these kids has been able to present themselves in the way that THEY want to be seen. Interesting, no? But I digress…
After her visit at Sprague, Rebecca joined us at the Wellesley Free Library, where she read for and took questions from an eager audience of readers, pretty evenly split between kids and adults who have enjoyed her books.
After the reading/chatting/fantastic Q&A, Rebecca signed books. Many, many books!
I wanted to include this photo (below) of the foamcore sign Random House sent us to promote Rebecca’s event, in part because we LOVE receiving big, splashy “put this in your store window so everyone will see this author is coming to your store” signs, and partly because I was bowled over by one little thing Random House did to “enhance” it. About a week after the ALA awards announcement, I received a slim envelope from Rebecca’s publicist that contained a scaled-to-fit-the-cover-image-on-our-sign replica of the Newbery Medal. It had CLEARLY been printed onto label paper (or some equivalent) and been cut out by hand, and while looking at it I had one of those “bless the hard-working folks in publicity” moments, thinking about how many crazy phone calls had been flowing into the Random House publicity office that week and marveling that someone cared enough to think of this one little tiny detail. Was it necessary? No. (Especially not when I’d already boldly markered the words “WINNER OF THE 2010 NEWBERY MEDAL” on the sign.) Was it nice? Yes. Very much so. AND I enjoyed finding just the right spot for that shiny gold medal to go.
Now, here’s Rebecca, the following day, in the Tenacre Country Day School’s library. (Yes, their school library has a fireplace. Yes, we are ALL jealous of their school library!!) The kids at Tenacre asked very intelligent and personal questions about their own writing projects — things like, “What advice would you give to someone who doesn’t know how to end their story, because, well, I’m writing a book right now, and…”
I loved that Rebecca gave very sincere, honest, and encouraging answers to these questions. She didn’t belittle the importance of students’ work or dismiss their frustrations with an “Oh, you’ll get past that.” Instead, she gave them pointed pieces of advice — the same advice she’d give to adults asking her the same questions. The point at which I wanted to jump up and hug Rebecca was when she told these kids that the fact that they are struggling and trying to solve problems meant that they were truly doing the work of writers — that what they are doing is WRITING, in the truest sense of the word. It was moving for those of us adults in that room, to see these kids being treated as “equals” by a Newbery Medal-winning author, and I know the sincerity of Rebecca’s remarks made the kids value them (and her) all the more.
Here’s Rebecca with Tenacre’s *brilliant* School Librarian, Esther Frazee, whose creativity never ceases to amaze me. Each time I visit the school the library is filled with the most amazing projects — all of them spearheaded by her and created in the tiny amount of time in which she sees these kids each week. On the mantle behind Rebecca’s head (above) are two of the big 3D characters created by Tenacre’s kindergartners in response to Lucy Cousins’ book Yummy.
You can see more of the Yummy dolls in the photo below, AND a small “set” that was assembled in the library for Rebecca’s visit.
Near the bed display stood this HUGE replica of the postcard Miranda’s mother receives at the start of When You Reach Me.
As for Rebecca’s “parting gifts” from Tenacre? Well, like the students at Sprague, this bunch each wrote individual notes to Rebecca, each one stating something the student had either LIKED or NOTICED in When You Reach Me. They gave her a Tenacre totebag filled with Tenacre branded items that they claimed to have “swiped” from the Tenacre storeroom, in the same fashion by which Miranda’s mother occasionally “swipes” things from the supply closet of the office where she works. Finally, the Tenacre group presented Rebecca with a lunch she could eat on the train back to New York: a (supposedly) “cheese, lettuce, and tomato” sandwich from (where else?) Jimmy’s. The report from Rebecca’s blog suggests that the contents of the sandwich were actually more exciting than what she’d been told to expect, and that they were quite delicious too.
Finally I can add another name to the category “Newbery Medal-Winning Authors Who Like Prosciutto.”

5 thoughts on “When Rebecca Stead Reached Us

  1. Sue Douglass Fliess

    In February I saw her speak in Mountain View, CA at The Girls Middle School – my friend’s daughter attends there and I ‘got in’. She was sweet, witty and totally engaging. I can understand why you were compelled to write so much about her and her visits!

  2. Pingback: Bookish Birdhouses Make the Grade (6th Grade, That Is) « Shelf Talker

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