Musings from Mansfield

I spent the last three days doing school visits in Mansfield, Texas (between Dallas and Fort Worth). I visited every grade from second to eighth, saw five different schools and signed hundreds of books. There are now a lot of kids in Mansfield walking around in black Battle of the Labyrinth T-shirts!

Some of my favorite moments: at one school, the AP art kids had done some incredible, five-foot-tall reproductions of the Percy Jackson book covers. At another school, the sixth grade made a variety of cool projects, like ‘book reports in a can’ – you make a paper film strip of one chapter, make slits in the plastic lid of a coffee can, then use it as a little slide show presentation. They also did Percy Jackson scrapbooks and presentations made entirely of torn paper. My favorite was the scene in Crusty’s Waterbed Palace! Thanks to all the librarians who helped organize and host the visits.

While hanging out in one of the libraries, I happened across a recent edition of School Library Journal with His Excellency Jon Scieszka on the front cover, so I got to read the interview with our newly appointed national ambassador for young people’s literature. As I’ve mentioned before, Jon is one of my heroes. I’ve been a fan ever since The True Story of the Three Little Pigs. I was so delighted that the Powers that Be actually had the wisdom to elect someone who makes reading . . . well, fun. It’s a great article if you get a chance to read it. As usual, his remarks about how we can get more kids to read are right on target. I love the list he posted about the perks he should get as ambassador, especially the Apache attack helicopter. I want to show up to my next school visit in one of those babies.

On a more serious note, one morning I stopped by Starbuck’s (or ‘Fourbucks,’ as one of our local bloggers calls it) and I was looking at the book display by the counter while I waited for my latte. The book was “Beautiful Boy,” by David Sheff. I kept staring at the author’s name, thinking, ‘Why does that sound familiar?’ I picked up the book, which is about a father struggling with his son’s drug addiction. I looked at the author’s photo, and a chill ran down my back. I knew him. I’d taught his son. Then I look more closely at the cover photo, and there’s Nic, as I knew him years ago when he was a little boy. Wow. It was eerie, and sad, and very moving. I couldn’t believe how much time had passed since that photo was taken, or how many turns all our lives had taken. Of course, I bought the book and have just started reading it. I told my wife the story, and she got on line. Soon, she had more news. Not only does David have a book out, but so does Nic. “Tweak” is Nic’s own account of his experiences with drugs. I’d seen the book, but I hadn’t realized who wrote it. When I knew the Sheffs, I was in my twenties, and I had no kids. Now, my older son is about the same age as Nic was when I knew him. It’s a lot to process. Perhaps I’ll write more after I’ve read the books, but just seeing their faces again and hearing what they’ve been through – an experience that is every parent’s nightmare – made a powerful impact on me. I hope the books have been a healing process for them, and I have no doubt they will help other families (too many families out there) who are struggling with similar issues.

Now I’m back at home and working on my own writing. I’m also in the midst of having my website redesigned. Stay tuned for more on that. Next week I’m off to Richmond for a quick school visit.

Have a good weekend, everyone!

Rick Riordan