The Last Visits of the Year

I just returned from Killeen, Texas, where I had my last school visits of 2008. I realized that I’ve visited exactly fifty schools since the academic year began. I’m not sure how that happened, since I only booked twenty days for the whole school year, but I guess when you add on all the publisher-sponsored events, it makes sense. Boy, am I tired of hotels and suitcases!

Nevertheless, I had a wonderful time in Killeen. It’s a small town north of Austin, closely associated with Fort Hood army base. A large majority of the kids I spoke with have one or more parents in the army, and many have parents overseas. The wars have hit this community hard. The students at all three schools were great to work with. I got to do a writer’s workshop each day with selected kids, and it was probably my favorite part of each visit. This sort of presentation is a luxury, since I’m usually talking to several hundred or more at a time. In smaller groups, we get to talk about writing and books, compare ideas, brainstorm silly characters, and basically have fun. It always reminds me why I loved being a classroom teacher.

A good school visit is made up of wonderful moments, and one of the reasons I blog is so I can record them before I forget them. One student named Nick made his own Greek vase from clay, elaborately decorated with mythology scenes. Another student Chloe brought me some candy because she thought I might be hungry and told me about her poetry. A beaming teacher came up to me after a presentation and said, “You know, I was grumpy coming into your presentation because I’m missing classroom time, and my kids were grumpy too. Now, we are SO glad we came!” Braden, a sixth grader, gave me a letter asking for help writing the details of his own stories. He wrote that he is ADHD like Percy, but “when I read your books I feel like I’m in control 100%. I think that is because I can relate to the story.” An anonymous seventh grade girl wrote me a thank you note after one presentation: “I have read only a few books in my life. I really don’t like to read. But after reading only three chapters of your book, I felt the need to read more.” Taylor came in to get his books signed and quietly slipped me a letter to read later. Taylor writes: “I must confess I simply HATE to read. Reading for me is like having to eat broccoli or floss my teeth. I know that both of these things are good for me, but I simply HATE them. And then the first day of seventh grade, I finally found something I like to read.” He goes on to describe how he discovered Percy Jackson, has read the whole series, and is now giving them as gifts to his friends. As an author, I can’t think of anything I’d rather get for Christmas than notes like these.

Thanks to the librarians who hosted me in Killeen and throughout 2008. I hope Santa brings you all a huge library with movable shelves for author presentations to come, because as we all know, the person who invented the cafetorium deserves a huge lump of coal. Thanks to all the dedicated teachers who gave up classroom time to read Percy Jackson with their students. I hope Santa fills your stockings with extra time, great parents, understanding administrators, and all the classroom supplies you could ever need. And if Santa could get rid of that monumental lump of coal known as ‘No Child Left Behind,’ that might be nice too.

Finally, I hope all the families in Killeen and elsewhere who have family members serving overseas will have a good holiday season and can look forward to a safe and quick reunion with their loved ones.

My family is off to the Caribbean for Christmas to hang out with Poseidon. Yes, I know, more suitcases and hotels, but we’re traveling as a family, which is totally different. I will keep you updated on our adventures!

Rick Riordan