I remember when I first sent Erin Soderberg Downing the message that Oxford Elementary School would be reading The Quirks: Welcome to Normal for OES Reads, our whole-school community book this year. Erin's excitement about this news matched mine. I remember she almost immediately started thinking about how she might be able to make the trek from Minneapolis to Maine to meet these to-be OES Read-ers in person.
This week we concluded OES Reads 2018, and Erin was in Maine, at OES, to wrap it all up.
All through our conversation leading up to her visit, Erin insisted it was important to her that every OES Read-er have the opportunity to have their book signed. It made for a very tight and full day, but soon after the students had arrived and the Pledge of Allegiance had been said, we set out to meet the rigorous challenge. Twenty-two classrooms (PreK-6), roughly 400 students, and just about four hours to do it.
Erin was incredible.
Erin made every classroom we went into feel she was there specifically for them, flexibly adapting to whatever was happening in the room when we dropped in. She personalized book after book while fielding questions from bouncy, excited kindergarteners through thoughtful, curious sixth graders. And, she delivered bookmarks for everyone so that no reader went home without a souvenir of the day.
Reserving time for lunch would have been tough if not for a lunch date we made for Erin to meet with several fifth grade students who have had a chance to read the advanced reader copy of the first book in her next series, The Daring Dreamers Club: Milla Takes Charge (June 5, 2018). The students were all ears as Erin told stories of the writing process, changes that have happened in readying the book for publication, and gave hints about what is to come in books two and three. They asked questions and shared their first impressions with Erin.
The day closed with a whole-school closing assembly for OES Reads, our whole-school community reading initiative. This year, the assembly culminated a six-week window in which readers and their families read The Quirks: Welcome to Normal, completed some activities from our activity calendar, answered trivia to win prizes, and attended a Quirks-themed Family Literacy Night.
Even though Erin had already answered a lot of questions throughout the day in her classroom drop-ins, the students were attentive to Erin's presentation about how The Quirks came to be and the stories she shared from writing The Quirks and Puppy Pirates. OES Read-ers were treated to an outtake chapter from The Quirks as Erin talked about revisions that mean big changes to the book. And, they had the chance to ask more questions (and did!).
Together, we listened to Erin read the Epilogue from The Quirks: Welcome to Normal, celebrated a few second grade writers who had written haiku inspired by The Quirks, and sang a quirky little tune written by one of our regular substitutes.
The students and staff at OES loved Erin, with many remarking later that day and the next about how terrific she had been and how much it meant to the students to meet her.
Truly, it is the most important magical work to make it possible, and I'm so grateful to Erin for sharing such enthusiasm about OES Reads and her generosity and willingness to make this day a reality for our school community.