Back in the fall, I got it into my head that I should try to be a little more proactive about reeling in some school visits. I had some brochures printed up, and a banner that screamed “PUZZLE YOUR KIDS!”, and a couple of tabletop signs. The state convention of school librarians offered a free table to authors if they were displaying for the first time, and I figured the other expenses would pay for themselves if I landed one full-day visit or a couple of library gigs.
So on a very early morning back in October I negotiated the parking lot at the Hartford Convention Center, made my way up to the convention floor, and spoke to a number of friendly but confused people who were not quite sure what to do with me. I wasn’t officially a registrant, I wasn’t officially a vendor, and all the author tables had already been snatched up.
A very nice woman resigned herself to figuring out how to solve the problem of me. She pointed to the far wall as a place to wait, and said she would have a new table set up for me, and off she went.
I was wheeling a rusty dolly cart stacked with everything I needed for the day, and my arms were full, too. The box of brochures kept wanting to slip out of my arms and explode on the floor. I schlepped everything down the aisle, got about thirty feet, and stopped: My peripheral vision had just informed me that if I turned my head to the right, I would see a stack of my own book, The Potato Chip Puzzles. I looked and saw it was true. Huh? What booth was displaying my book?
A woman at the booth held out a piece of paper. “Would you like to see the top secret list of nominees for the 2013 Nutmeg Award?”
Considering how full my hands were, there were very few things I could have been offered at that moment that I would have been willing to accept. But, boy, did I suddenly want to see that list of nominees.
It was not long after my first book came out that I realized the important role that state reading lists play in getting books into the hands of young readers. The setup is generally the same no matter which list you’re talking about: A committee of librarians and teachers choose a lineup of books — as few as five or as many as twelve. Kids who read some subset of those books earn the right to cast a vote for their favorite. The winning author usually gets invited to an award ceremony and gets to make a speech.
But winning is really beside the point, compared to having your book displayed prominently in libraries and bookstores for a full year, which is what happens in the states that take this most seriously. Plus, an appearance on a state list often means interest in my school visits: I got to spend a lot of time in Florida a couple of years ago, and I’ve got a week-long trip to Missouri coming up in April.
The two books to date have shown up on a dozen lists. But most of these, for whatever reason, have been in distant states. Massachusetts is pretty much the one exception. My expeditions to Florida and Missouri notwithstanding, many schools have a hard time bringing in an author when they also have to pay for plane fare.
So I was mighty excited to receive the 2013 list of Nutmeg nominees, seeing as my book was already being displayed at the Nutmeg Award booth. And, yep. I’m on the list!
That day at the convention couldn’t have gone better if I had planned it for six months. My table was set up fifteen feet away from the Nutmeg booth, and every time they gave somebody the list of nominees, they would say, “And one of the authors is right over there.” I gave away a ton of brochures, sold every book I had brought with me, and talked myself hoarse. So far only a couple of those interactions have turned into actual school visit dates, but I’m hopeful that now that the list has been more officially announced, a few more folks will come knocking. (If you’re visiting here because you’re peeking at the sites of the Nutmeg authors, a description of my school programs can be found here. The new “flexible thinking” speech has gone over really well the few times I’ve had the chance to do it. Hint, hint.)
Congrats to my fellow Nutmeggers on the Intermediate list:
Baseball Great by Tim Green
Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea
Born to Fly by Michael Ferrari
The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick
My Life As a Book by Janet Tashjian
Powerless by Matthew Cody
A Tale Dark & Grimm by Adam Gidwitz
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
The Wonder of Charlie Anne by Kimberly Fusco