Questions and Answers

I was up in Seattle on Monday, doing a school visit at The Evergreen School in Shoreline. I love doing school visits. This one was exceptional. The children were so well-prepared that it got a bit scary. They knew my books better than I did.

All the classes are doing a lot of work with writing and storytelling. That’s a connection after my own heart. Writing comes out of storytelling. Before there were books, before there was writing, there were stories. I grabbed the opportunity to throw the books aside and just tell.

This worked especially well with the fourth and fifth graders. I focused on two stories from my Book of Greek Myths. I told Daedalus and Icarus first, then Midas and the Golden Touch. I’ll admit I was taking a chance. I hadn’t told those two in years. On the other hand, once you know a story, you never forget it. So I pulled out all the stops and had a grand time. Of course, anyone following along with the text would be bewildered because what I told was nothing at all like what I wrote. Telling and writing are two different experiences. The muse lifted me up. I soared as high as Icarus.

I need to make a note to myself. Do more telling the next time you go out. I’ve missed it.

My second favorite part of the day has to do with the question and answer session. I always leave about ten minutes at the end of my presentation for the children to ask questions. Usually, they ask the same ones. “Where do you get your ideas?” “Do you have any pets?” “What made you want to become an author?” These are good questions and they deserve a proper answer. However, I’ve answered them so many times that I can reply without thinking much about what I’m saying. It’s a kind of oral automatic pilot.

But every now and then a child will ask a question that rattles me out of commonplace answers and forces me to think. That happened on Monday when I was talking to the second and third graders. I had done The Fisherman and the Turtle. It’s my own Aztec variant on Grimm’s The Fisherman and His Wife. The Sea Turtle, like Grimm’s Flounder, grants wishes. At the end of the story I often ask the children, “What would you wish for?

This time one girl turned the tables on me. In the midst of the standard author questions, she asked, “If you met the Turtle, what would YOU wish for?”

I never thought of that. What would I wish for? What do I really, really want? If I could wish for anything, what would it be?

I backpedaled for a moment. I had no canned answer to give. Finally I found one that would serve. I said, “I’m really not into stuff anymore. I’m trying to simplify my life. These days, I’m giving away stuff. So I think I’d wish for something that would help everybody. How about this? I’d wish for the Turtle to give President Obama the wisdom to solve all the problems he’s now facing.”

The children liked that answer. I’m not so sure about it myself. It got me off the hook, but it didn’t answer the question. What would YOU wish for? Tell the truth.

Honestly, I don’t know. I’m still thinking about that.

I’ll let you know if I come up with anything.

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