Newbery Honor Author, New York Times Bestseller, Time Traveler
Let’s Put on a Show!
My body has never been to Swayzee, Indiana, but my heart has spent a lot of time at the elementary school there, especially in Room 8. It all happened because two years ago, a superhero disguised as a 5th grade teacher, Katy VanAken, sent me an email about how much she loved The Fences Between Us. She told me she couldn’t wait to share it with her students.
Last year’s Room 8-ers in Mrs. Van Aken’s father’s WWII Navy uniforms!
When school started up this past fall, two of Mrs. VanAken’s “champions” (that’s what she calls her students), emailed me about reading Piper’s story. That was the beginning of a wonderful pen pal relationship with Brooklyn and Kiley. I sent the girls copies of Hattie Big Sky and that led to one more wonderful thing: with the help of their friend Colin, who played Uncle Holt, the girls chose to act out a scene from HBS for their end-of-the-year play! Brooklyn played Hattie and Kiley played Aunt Ivy.
Here are some of the things Mrs. VanAken told me about the preparation that went into the play:
The girls googled pictures of Wolf Point Main Street to see the real deal and put Huxol Drugs and the rooming house into the scenery as well as ads for Packer’s hair stuff and more. A dad enlarged the actual train depot picture and a picture of a train for us.
Downtown Wolf Point, Montana!
This set’s amazing– look at that train!
The kids used the picture of the claim shack that you sent us.
Inside the claim shack
We’ve had a ball as Kiley plays Ivy – forgive us in our script writing and character interpretation.
Building the set
Kiley and Brooklyn
The rolls of paper at the top of the scenery are for the next scene and the 2 mini-plays following Hattie.
The parlor was on one side of the big-boards.
We rolled down Wolf Point Depot, and turned the boards around for the claim shack – 3rd panel from the left was meant to be a bed/platform. Hattie’s bedroom is on the side boards.
Lots of fun to create our own end of the year theater!!!
It’s show time!
Performing for an SRO crowd
When Emily heard that Mattie Mueller died later on in the story, she struggled not to cry. Your characters are indelible in our hearts, and that’s priceless. Kiley and Brooklyn wished they had a time machine to visit Vida, and are still shaking their heads at how brave people needed to be just to get through the challenges of each day. Looking at the claim shack and imagining the severe cold made us all give thanks for warm homes and food!
How wonderful to have treasured book friends.
I say, “amen,” to Katy’s sentiment above. How wonderful it is to have treasured book friends — like Brooklyn, Kiley, and the rest of Room 8, including one amazing, dedicated and energetic teacher. Mrs. VanAken retired as of May 23, 2012. I wish her well but I know I won’t be the only one who misses her guiding light in the classroom.
I also know Brooklyn and Kiley will continue to “knock ’em dead,” whether it be on stage or in middle school or whatever comes next for them. They are two smart, articulate, generous and thoughtful young ladies. I hope if they ever get to the Seattle area, they’ll look me up. I know if I ever get to Swayzee, I will certainly knock on their doors!
I’ll close this post with Brooklyn and Kiley’s email to me, post-performance:
Dear Kirby, We acted scenes from Hattie Big Sky yesterday and we had a lot of fun. We couldn’t wear winter clothes because it was too hot in the room so it looked more like spring time. Almost 75 people came to all 3 of our performances so our classroom was hot and crowded. The 5 plays together lasted an hour.
We put quilt batting in the claim shack to look like snow and Andrew was Karl and said ach schnee. Everybody laughed when Brooklyn said, “Sir if I was your daughter, I would wait until the train started up and throw myself in front of it.” Everybody laughed when we were grabbing Hattie’s letters back and forth. This is Kiley. In one part I grabbed Uncle Holt’s newpaper and said, “I’m talking to you.” and everybody laughed. This is Brooklyn. We like the book a lot and had so much fun making it into one of our plays. The audience clapped a lot for us and more kids want to read about Hattie. American Patrol was the music we played to introduce our play because it was from World War I. Thanks very much for writing to us this year. This is our last day of 5th grade and we will always remember your letters and the books you sent to us. Thank you. Have a good time writing your books this summer. Your book lovers, Brooklyn and Kiley