The Right Time and Place
April 17, 2010
Yesterday I got to see Andrew Clements, my newest favorite author, in person. So much fun. Seemed serendipitous to me that he came to our area at this particular time.
Because—I’ve been systematically reading his books ever since my daughter loaned me The School Story last summer. What hooked me was the clarity of his writing, the logical way everything fit together, and his conversational tone, plus the subject matter. I immediately told my sister-in-law about the book and went out and bought a copy for my mom.
The next book I read was Frindle, which I read the second time, to my husband, while we commuted in the car. The story reminded me of the time my dad invented a new word—rather a new use for an old word—in reaction to the slang I brought home years ago from highschool in Illinois. While I said things were “cool” or “boss,” he said they were “tart.”
Another connection to Frindle is that we lived in Middletown, RI, and used to drive past JFK Elementary, where Andrew Clements got the idea for his story. Curiously enough, I’ve discovered connections to many of his books, including The Jacket, Things Hoped For, Lunch Money, The Report Card, and Ringo Saves the Day, a true animal story for young readers.
I wouldn’t have learned of his speaking engagement in our area unless I’d happened to stop by the bookstore a week ago, on a Friday evening. My son and I had attended a Recorder concert that finished early, and on a whim, we stopped at the bookstore on the way home. People were milling around a book signing table, so I asked the clerk who the authors were, and she pulled out a calendar and spread it on the counter. Although I didn’t recognize the authors who were there that night, the name in the square for Friday jumped out at me. “Andrew Clements is going to be here?” There were no posters, no signs. If I hadn’t talked to her and she hadn’t shown me the calendar, I would not have seen his name.
Yesterday I arrived early, which turned out to be a good thing because the place filled up in no time. I’m guessing there were at least four hundred fourth-graders (I counted twenty rows of twenty chairs) and another hundred adults or more. Coincidentally, there were students from Briarcrest Elementary, where my daughter attended sixth grade years ago, and from Brookside Elementary, where my son attended kindergarten. (Between that time and now, we’ve lived in two other states and three countries.) The boy sitting next to me was reading the book, Extra Credit, which I read only last week. We had a happy conversation while we waited.
At last, Andrew Clements, in a conservative sport jacket, dark shirt, and tweed pants, appeared on the small stage. He talked to the kids—and the rest of us—about the history of a few of his books. Still a teacher, he asked questions and called on the kids for answers. Finally, he decribed the chain of events that had to happen for him to get where he is now.
At the end, during the Q and A time, a fourth-grade boy said, “Have you ever fallen asleep while you were writing?”
Andrew Clements said, “Yes,” and explained that he does sometimes end up napping when he closes his eyes to think, which he pointed out is essential to good writing. “If you can’t think about a story clearly, you can’t write it clearly.”
(Thanks, Mr. Clements. I needed to hear that.)
The hour flew. Fortunately for the kids—and for me—his new series, Benjamin Pratt and the Keepers of the School, is coming soon.
A video clip of Andrew Clements is available at: http://promo.simonandschuster.com/keepers/