Balliett, Spinelli, Barrows and Birdsall

Alison Morris - May 20, 2008

Wednesday, May 14th was our whirlwind day of hosting three author events, two of them truly "back to back." I took photos at each of these events and created a Flickr page to house all them plus future pics. (If I have time I’ll go back and add some older photos too.) You can check it out at

The events fun on the 14th started at 10am when I met Blue Balliett at Wellesley Middle School. There she signed stock for the store then ably entertained a crowd of a few hundred sixth graders with her photos of the real Chicago sites described in her books, and her  explanation of the elements that inspired her newest novel, The Calder Game. Like her books, Blue’s presentation contained something of interest for fans of art, fans of math, and fans of literature. As Diane Campbell, who heads the school’s English Department, said to me afterwards, "She was great!"

After Blue’s visit I scarfed down some lunch, spent about an hour at my desk, and assembled the necessary pieces for our afternoon events. Around 2pm three of us headed over to the Wellesley Free Library to begin setting up the book sales for our 3pm event with Jerry Spinelli. Librarian Mary Dalton and I were biting our nails a bit as the day had turned out to be the most beautiful one, weather-wise, we’d had in weeks. With sunshine and temps in the 70’s we had stiff competition from every basetball court, baseball diamond and nature trail in the area. Jerry himself quipped that when he was a kid the library was the last place you’d have found him on a day like this. BUT some 60 or so Spinelli fans nevertheless showed up in enthusiastic anticipation of Jerry’s presentation, which did NOT disappoint. The highlight for me was in learning about the real-life girl who had inspired the character of Amanda Beale in Maniac Magee. And the story that touched off his desire to write Milkweed. The kids in attendance asked great questions during Jerry’s Q&A. I left the library around 4pm, while Jerry was signing copies of Smiles to Go for his pack of fans, so that I could head off for our third event of the day.

My destination this time was Wilson Middle School in neighboring Natick, where four of us Booksmithies were MORE than ably assisted by our friends from the Morse Institute Library in setting up for our 6pm event with Annie Barrows and Jeanne Birdsall. This energetic duo was an absolute HOOT, and the 75 enthusiastic fans (most of them women and girls) who came out to get the inside scoop on The Magic Half, Ivy and Bean and  the Penderwicks were treated to about an hour’s worth of conversation, laughter and answers to their questions even before we moved to the book-signing portion of the evening. Jeanne and Annie began their presentation by reading from one another’s books, then tossed a few questions at one another, before taking many, many questions from the assembled crowd of spectators, many of whom sat cross-legged on the floor in front of them. I particularly liked one of Jeanne’s questions for Annie — "What’s your least favorite kind of praise to get for your books?" After thinking for a while Annie spoke of her mixed feelings about the response from one kid who said that Ivy and Bean and the Ghost Who Had to Go had given him nightmares but he’d loved it. The wonderfully comic and slightly irreverent Jeanne, meanwhile, said she’s put off whenever grown-ups refer to her books as "wholesome." Everyone giggled conspiratorially as the two confessed to the real-life people who had inspired the less-than-friendly (in some cases downright mean) characters in their books, and one girl wanted to be sure to set the record straight with Annie on the subject of twins, who feature prominently in The Magic Half. "I’m a twin and I don’t really like being a twin," she said. "It is NOT exciting!" This event, however, certainly WAS, leading me to say that we’d happily host this duo again ANY time they wanted to get together on this coast (Annie lives in California, Jeanne in Northampton, Mass.).

As for whether or not I’d agree to another triple-header events day like this one, this answer is YES. Absolutely. But only after we’d all had plenty of time to rest up from this particular one first!

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