A week ago today, I was honored to spend the day at Olmstead School in Olmstead, Kentucky. It was one of those whirlwind, fly-in-on-Sunday-night-fly-out-on-Monday-night trips which are kind of hard on the old body. But this trip was pure balm for the soul.
I flew into Nashville, where uber librarian Jennifer Wilcutt and her buddy, 5th grade teacher Stephanie Alvis, were to pick me up. As I was getting off the plane, Jennifer texted me to look for a black Ford Explorer with UK plates. I texted back asking if she had a British accent. I mean, wouldn’t you?
|I love Jennifer Wilcutt even if she doesn’t have a British accent
Luckily, they let me in the car anyway. My husband was chagrined to find out that I had no clue that UK stood for University of Kentucky. (Now I know! Go Wildcats!) Jennifer, Stephanie and I enjoyed dinner together as they peppered me with questions about my books and writing process.
|Welcome basket with my “United Kingdom” thermal mug
Jennifer picked me up the next morning and drove straight to the nearest Starbucks — talk about Southern hospitality! (she doesn’t even drink coffee herself) Then it was on to the school which she describes as in the middle of a cornfield. I wish I had taken a photo: the school is beautiful but not nearly as beautiful as the people inside it.
My first session was with the kindergartners through third graders, who were dying to know more about Nubs so I filled them in. I even showed them a little movie I’ve made which includes some recent photos of everybody’s favorite dog. They all laughed at the one of him dressed up as a Viking fan.
The next group consisted of sixth through eighth graders (what do they feed those kids in Kentucky? Tall, tall, tall!) I always love sharing with this age group about how influential my maternal grandmother was in my becoming a writer. She never went beyond eighth grade herself, but I consider her one of my greatest teachers. However, I do stress the importance of staying in school unless you want to work two jobs like my grandma did.
Another treat of the day: my dear friend Alecia Marcum (Willie Mae Marcum in The Friendship Doll was blessed with her name because of Alecia) drove over from Bowling Green just to say hello. Love, love, love librarians.
|The adorable Alecia Marcum with her biggest fan
Lunch was shared with a dozen or so fifth and eighth graders who wrote essays about why they wanted to eat lunch with me; I loved reading the winning submissions almost as much as I loved meeting the kids themselves.
|The winning essays
|A writer could get a swelled head reading letters like this!
They were full of questions and I did my best to answer them all before the bell rang and they headed off to their classes. I could tell they were avid readers and good writers — they asked me a lot of questions about decisions I made as a writer. I was quite impressed.
|My lunch buddies
The last group of the day was the smallest, just fourth and fifth graders. Wow, what terrific energy and what great listeners. And, again, the kids kept me on my toes with questions about why I made the choices I did in writing certain scenes. They were especially interested in whether Rooster Jim was inspired by someone I knew and they all thought Hattie Big Sky would make a great movie (I can’t disagree with that!).
All too soon, the day was over and I was being whisked off to the airport. Jennifer manned the wheel, but this time principal Ben Kemplin and Social Studies teacher Kathleen Bailey kept us company. Ben could be a tour guide in his spare time! And Kathleen filled me in on some amazing workshops she’d taken through the National Endowment for the Humanities, one of which was in Montana a few years back which was where she’d run across Hattie Big Sky, which she brought to Jennifer, which lead to them wanting me to come to their school.
It took Jennifer and the Olmstead team two years to figure out how to bring me to Kentucky; last spring, thanks to a suggestion from my event coordinator, Michele Kophs, Jennifer applied for and received a Target Foundation grant. In the meantime, Jennifer and the other Olmstead staff extended my books by doing projects with the kids, including making crocheted bookmarks for soldiers deployed in Afghanistan (one intrepid staff member went on eBay and bought 50 crochet hooks for a dollar each). Pretty inspiring.
|An honor to have my photo taken these Olmstead dads just back from deployment
Every time I present at a school, I come home with sweet memories and a full heart. I hope I left a little bit of my passion for reading and writing in the hearts of the students and staff of Olmstead School.