Being an writer breaks hearts left, right, center and all the time. When I first met Toni Buzzeo, she was school librarian goddess of Maine, a smart and determined connector of kids and books. I did an author visit in her school and said, “Wowee. You have to write about how you do this!”
She agreed. Toni and I wrote a book about terrific connections between schools and authors, illustrators, and storytellers. But she was longing to publish a children’s book, herself, and she started a writing retreat in Maine (now near Boston) where she and I write and talk together every fall.
I remember the achey-breaky-heart retreat when Toni was in despair over having written so much, revised so much, submitted so much, and been rejected so much. She wailed that she’d never get a book published.
Failure is a constant in our writing and publishing world. Acccccccccccccccccck. It’s enough to make anyone weep.
I remember when this book was a vague glimmer in Toni’s brain.
I remember watching her sit and laugh with one of our author friends on retreat as she shaped and re-shaped the story.
I remember giving suggestions and listening to various readings and cheering it on. And of course I remember that retreat when she was in the depths of despair and thought she’d never get even one book published.
Toni and I first bonded over a story she’d written that came out of her first trip to Kenya. Right now, she’s now on her way to author visits at international schools in Ethiopia and Kenya. Via phone, we got to jump around some before she left. I told her I needed her to regale me with the deliciousness of the whole cool story, and she did.
Triumph! As Lanie would say, “Thrilldom!” Every once in a while, everything clicks.
Author Philip Pullman, in his Isis lecture writes, “Writing a story feels to me like fishing in a boat at night. The sea is much bigger than you are, and the light of your little lamp doesn’t show you very much of it. You hope it’ll attract some curious fish, but perhaps you’ll sit here all night long and not get a bite.”
Most of my efforts–whether my pages of fiction or my volunteer work for Ethiopia Reads–don’t get a bite.
In Ethiopia, schools have creative ways of getting words and pictures to kids. Books are expensive to produce. A lot of classrooms have 0 books so, as my brother says, lots of kids are doing the hard work of learning to read–with no books TO read.
Why do he and I think that’s so awful?
Why do he and I donate so much time and effort to Ethiopia Reads when we should be writing more books?
Look at this picture of Opening Day and listen to Philip Pullman again:
Those who focus on only standardized tests and fill in the blank sheets (for example) “seem to have completely forgotten the true purpose of literature, the everyday, humble, generous intention that lies behind every book, every story, every poem: to delight or to console, to help us enjoy life or endure it. That’s the true reason we should be giving books to children.”
So Opening Day this spring at the newest library in Ethiopia? New partners in the work to share teacher-to-teacher, reader-to-reader in Ethiopia? Regale me with more of the deliciousness of THAT.