Boy, I can’t say for sure how long I’ve been going to the Young Author Conference up in Thief River Falls, Minn. I have evidence that it’s been happening as least since 2008, maybe longer. Either way, for me, spring has come to be associated with this super fun event which brings together a group of regional artists and students from Minnesota to celebrate writing and reading.
I recently learned that the kids call it the “YAYA.” I like it. From here on out, it’s YAYA!
This year’s YAYA journey involved a trip to my friend Mary’s stomping grounds, a farm near Shelly, Minn., that currently has lambs, sheep and chickens coloring its grounds. Mary was another of the artist presenters for this year’s event. She does a session on script writing. Mine was on quotes, questions and quirky quips.
I missed my chance for a photo, but if I’d been thinking, I might have had something like this to share with you.
Being on Mary’s farm on a warm, spring day brought me back about 40 years when my father worked for Roosevelt County in northeastern Montana in the assessor’s office. He appraised farm buildings. And because he knew of my weakness for young creatures, like puppies and lambs, whenever he knew he was going to be visiting a farm with bum lambs that needed to be bottle-fed, he’d get me out of school and bring me along.
There are no photos of that either, but boy did I love my time with the lambs. And this time of year is lamb time like no other. Can’t you hear the bleating now? They were quite noisy as we walked up to the Aalgaard farmhouse on the return trip. The chorus of hungry lambs and sheep waiting at the trough took on a life of its own.
In between the lamb sightings, we were gathering with our artist friends, sharing our “most embarrassing moments during an author visit” stories. I loved hearing how Sheryl once did the splits at one of her presentations at the urging of her students after she’d declared that that was one of her secret talents, as well as sharing that it took a long time to recover from that little show. She later removed that from her list of talents to share with kids. Lesson learned: Be careful what you share with students!
Children’s writer Mary Casanova showed up to grace us, too. The keynotes don’t always join us lesser-known authors, but Mary was completely down to earth and, I hope, at home among us. I’d met her before and it was fun to be in her company once again, and hear about how, not once, but at least twice, she showed up to a school wearing mismatched shoes — one brown and one black!
Mary shared this same story with the students in the gym at the opening the next day. And I’m sure it was a good ice-breaker that reached them, too, and helped them see that no matter what, we are all human together. And we get a pass for that. Pobody’s Nerfect!
After the keynote, we presenters hurried to our classrooms to greet the students.Here I am just before the onslaught of kids in grades 5 to 8!
Each of us gave three presentations for different groups who had, in most cases, chosen which sessions they wanted to attend.
You always hope the students are getting something good from the offerings, but sometimes it’s hard to tell. They are usually from different schools and, because they are often sitting near people they don’t know, you don’t always have a sense of their level of engagement. They are in shy, don’t-look-at-me mode.
But in my second session, I got an indication things were going okay when a shy student came up to me afterwards and shared that she hadn’t gotten to pick her sessions, and was super happy she’d landed in mine because I’d really inspired her.
Wow! That was good enough for me to feel satisfied and grateful.
And then, in the last session, I’d had some exchanges with a young gal in the front row, who had admitted to me that though her name was “Harmony” and she came from a musical family, she would “never be a musician because I’m too shy.” Well, I was very shy as a kid — still am at times — and I assured her of that, and that it was a great combination to be both a writer and a musician!
Later, as I collected the student surveys, I noticed the one on top was from her. She’d marked my session as her favorite of the three. Why? “Because of the way she made me feel. She was encouraging, like a mom.” Well that just sent my happy meter even higher.
We can’t be everything to everyone, but I try to share from my heart during these sessions. I teach a little about the writing process, and a lot about what it means to be a writer — and the joys that come with it. The kids get the grammatical teachings in school, and that’s important, too. But I want to be that person who helps them envision this writer’s life, and see what a beautiful life it can be — because it truly is.
I hope someday I can meet one of these students on the spine of a book. I don’t know how I will ever know, but it’s a dream of mine to know that I may have inspired some young soul toward this deeply fulfilling calling.
Besides the pre-conference artist dinner, Mary and I have another tradition we’ve been honoring the past few years. We cannot leave Thief River Falls without stopping by the Dairy Queen. There’s just something about processing a wonderful day like this over a parfait.
I’m going to share another neat story that came from this event on Wednesday, so I hope you’ll come back for more then!
Q4U: When did you inspire a young mind, and receive confirmation of that?