D.E.A.R (Drop Everything And Read) Day at Humberwood Downs JMA
One of the most thrilling and nerve-wracking experiences that a debut author can undergo, in our opinion, is that first guest author appearance in front of a very large group of people. For us (Amanda Giasson and Julie B. Campbell), it was a three-fer; one event broken down into three groups. But we’ve gone ahead of ourselves. Let’s start at the beginning:
The Literacy Committee at Humberwood Downs Junior Middle Academy (a Toronto-based school) invited us to participate in their D.E.A.R. Day event on April 30, 2015 and we couldn’t have been more excited (and honoured) to take part.
The event started with a reading of Julie’s book “The Elephant-Wolf”, over the P.A. system to about 1,000 listeners. It then progressed into three 45-minute back-to-back presentations in front of different grade divisions. The first group consisted of more than 100 kids in kindergarten through the first grade. There were around 90 children second group, and they were in grades 2 through 4. The last group had around 80 students from grades 5 and 6.
The entire thing was a whirlwind and was unlike anything that either of us have ever experienced. So, we figured that in the tradition of our novel, “Love at First Plight”, we would take a cue from Irys and Megan and share our experiences from our own perspectives.
Julie B Campbell
After having about 10 minutes of sleep (I wish I were exaggerating), it was quite the challenge to get up, that morning. Somehow, though, I was outside at 6:10 a.m. with Amanda as we climbed into our carpool to Toronto (thanks Mom and Janet!).
For the first stretch, I was certain that I’d finally mastered my social anxiety disorder and that I would actually get through the entire experience, unscathed. Nope. By Vaughan, my hands were already entering into various phases of numbness. I calmed myself through that, so that the feeling returned to my hands, just in time to have a full-on panic attack in the parking lot (which must have been a barrel of monkeys for my co-carpoolers). A few minutes of focused breathing techniques later and I was no longer at risk of fainting in the parking lot. Hooray!
Once inside, we were greeted by a welcome sign addressed to both of us as guest authors. I think that’s when it became very real for me…and it felt great! I’m kicking myself for not having taken a picture of the sign, but that’s probably the only regret that I have for the entire event. Not too shabby!
We were escorted to the Humberwood Downs JMA office, where we met the principal, Mrs. Muir, and the vice principal, Mrs. Wasilewski. Such a warm greeting! Immediately, it felt as though a lot of the intensity was gone and that this was going to be a much friendlier experience than I’d built up in my head. Soon afterward, we met Mrs. Aiello, the librarian and member of the Literacy Committee. She brought us to the (massive) conference room where the main events would be held, so that we could prep ourselves based on the actual space we would be using.
Shortly thereafter, we were back in the school office. Following the morning announcements and standing for O Canada, Amanda and I received a brief lesson on the ins and outs of the P.A. system, and then we found ourselves reading “The Elephant-Wolf” for the whole school. It was GREAT! It completely eliminated my P.A. system-phobia stemming back from the fifth grade when I had been so proud to do the announcements and promptly said “barbarian school” instead of “Braeburn School”, only to have my teacher record it and play it back to me repeatedly until I had learned my mistake…scarring! This time, though, there was none of that!
Amanda essentially took over and made sure that I was seated and that the microphone was properly positioned for me to be heard in a massive panic-prevention strategy that looked very smooth and professional. I’m serious when I tell you that she was INCREDIBLE throughout the entire event. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without her.
Throughout the reading I could just feel the wisdom of the instructional YouTube video I’d watched, coursing through my veins. I kept my pace slow, I focused on the words, and I maintained inflection in my voice. Amanda piped in with all of the character voices in her usual astounding talent (she’s awesome!) and the finished product was something that made us both immensely proud, particularly when the entire office gave us a round of applause!
That said, that was only the first 6 minutes of the morning. As much of an achievement as that was, we hadn’t even gotten started.
In the conference room, the first group of kids arrived and sat themselves on the floor in front of us. It was a sea of bright-eyed faces and easily the largest group I’d ever had to address. The interactive re-reading of “The Elephant-Wolf” was a LOT of fun.
I especially liked the surprisingly accurate wolf and elephant noises that the kids shared with us with great enthusiasm when Amanda prompted them to do so. Amanda’s skills as a presenter and entertainer really carried us through, as she asked the kids lots of questions that they were more than happy to answer. Jules, my stuffed toy (who is also the real Elephant-Wolf), also drew a great deal of interest, which was fun.
After a brief Q&A, Amanda then read “Finding Manda’s Sunshine”, which was also well received…particularly when the little fairy kept calling Manda a “silly pants”. Amanda has a special skill for dramatic readings, doing all of the voices, facial expressions, and even actions, to give the story added life.
Once the first session came to a close, we had a brief fifteen minute recovery period (during which I chugged down water. Boy was I glad that Mrs. Aiello recommended that we bring water from the office for the event!) and then the second group arrived. We were faced with our second sea of bright-eyed faces.
Following our introductions (which included Jules, of course) we spent a wonderful 45 minutes taking questions, giving answers, providing advice based on our own experiences, and sharing our own stories about our love of writing and reading. The enthusiasm from the students and teachers, alike, was nearly overwhelming. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so confident and genuinely appreciated!
It was fantastic to be able to share my complete adoration for writing and for reading, and to groan about what a pain it is to have to edit and edit and edit because it is necessary even though it’s not fun. I was particularly touched when the group requested that we re-read “The Elephant-Wolf”, after which we all shared a discussion on what they’d heard.
It was all over so quickly! Before we knew it, one of the teachers was signaling that the next question would be the last. Then, Amanda and I handed out bookmarks to those who wanted them (everybody, I believe) and we received dozens upon dozens of hugs in return. I loved that chance to meet the kids one-on-one. They all had a smile or a brief personal story to share, which was enchanting to me.
As though that wasn’t wonderful enough, the third group was about to start. This group was clearly older and they had a great deal more experience with writing. This allowed the discussion to get into the nitty-gritty of writing.
Again, students and teachers, alike, asked some fantastic questions, ranging from overcoming writer’s block to understanding your target market! I liked the focus that was placed on co-authorship and on the writing technique that Amanda and I used to create “Love at First Plight”. I have to say, that was far more advanced than the writing lessons I received in grades 5 and 6! We really got into some of the “good stuff” about writing. It was fantastic!
Again, though, it felt as though we were just getting started when it all came to an end. As Amanda will mention in her Perspective of the event, we received a great formal “thank you” from one of the students, on behalf of the rest, and it was quite moving. Under other circumstances, I likely would have cried (very glad that I didn’t!).
We handed out our bookmarks and talked with the students, briefly, before they left for their lunch hour. Once again, the genuine enthusiasm and interest in Amanda and I, as authors, and the willingness to share their own experiences was astounding. They were happy to open up on a personal level and talk about the books they love, their enjoyment and trials in writing, and even one boy’s experience in having a father who authored a book about when he became an amputee. I could have spent hours talking to these students!
Overall, I was extremely impressed at the important role that literacy clearly plays at Humberwood Downs JMA, and with the level of respect that is universally displayed by its students and staff, alike. That school has certainly set the bar for author events in my future and I wonder how those groups will be able to live up to that experience. I can honestly say that I can’t wait to find out!
For me, the experience at Humberwood Downs JMA was nothing short of spectacular. I can honestly say that it was an unforgettable, amazing, and, even at times, a surreal experience.
As Julie mentioned above, in her account of our D.E.A.R. day event at the school, the staff and students at Humberwood Downs JMA were welcoming and incredible. I felt privileged to be included in an event that involved so many wonderfully delightful people. The staff were thoughtful, hospitable, and genuinely pleased to have us there. The students were kind, respectful, bright, curious, and eager to participate. I couldn’t have asked or hoped for a nicer first-time experience as a guest speaker.
I enjoyed talking to the three groups of students and found it fascinating how with each one, the interest in reading and writing and the participation levels varied. Our first group (the youngest group of students), were definitely taken with Julie’s book “The Elephant-Wolf”, and I had a lot of fun interacting with them as Julie read the story. They gave the best collective interpretation of a wolf howl that I have ever heard haha!
The second group (the grade 2s, 3s and 4s) were not only keen to hear Julie read “The Elephant-Wolf” again, but they also had many questions for us about writing and were genuinely interested in what we had to say. There was a small group of girls near the front who were particularly fascinated with us as writers, being avid writers themselves. Any time we asked a question, their hands always shot straight up in the air to provide a thought or an opinion. Their participation stood out to me because I could tell they don’t just write because it is part of their school curriculum. They write because they love it.
When the second group was leaving and we were handing out bookmarks, several of the students hugged us, which was both unexpected and sweet. Knowing that I had had enough of a positive impact on a child that they would feel comfortable enough to thank me and hug me goodbye, was a magical feeling. Oddly, I didn’t feel like a mini celebrity, I just felt special.
The final group not only had a lot of questions for us but they also had a lot to contribute. I enjoyed the discussion with that group. It was a lot of fun to explain the way Julie and I write the Perspective book series and to hear the students’ thoughts about what they felt were the pros and cons of working with another writer.
When the session with the final group came to an end, one of the boys stood up and, on behalf of the school, thanked us for coming to speak with them. At that moment, I was not only impressed by the boy’s eloquent thank you (seriously, it was beautifully delivered), but for the first time in my life I was on the receiving end of a “thank you” to a guest speaker (me). A “thank you” I had heard done numerous times, but only as a student years ago. That moment was surreal and very, very cool.
There were many things I learned from the experience, but there were three in particular that really left a mark.
First, I learned that Julie and I are an amazing team. After nearly 15 years of friendship, we have managed to find an ideal balance that allows us not only to write well together, but to also perform well together. While both of us are certainly far from perfect, we understand the strengths and the weaknesses of ourselves and each other. Thus, where one of us does not shine the other one of us does and will take the lead.
Julie did an awesome job at Humberwood Downs JMA. She read her book beautifully (three times!). She shone like a star and graciously accepted the attention she was given, in spite of having zero sleep and not being overly fond of the spotlight. While I never doubted her ability to be amazing, I don’t think I’ve ever been more proud of her. I am honoured and so, so lucky that she is my co-author.
Second, I learned that people will ask you all kinds of questions. Some I was prepared for, others I was not. Here are some of the questions we were asked:
“How long have you been writing?”
“How long did it take you to write your book?”
“When did you two meet?”
“How do you deal with writer’s block?”
“Are you two sisters?”
“Is your mom and your mom friends?”
“Do you travel the world?”
“How old are you?”
“Do you listen to music when you write?
“Who is your favourite author?”
“What is your favourite book?”
“If you never became a writer what do you think you would be?”
“How do you get published?”
Of course, the best answer to give is an honest one. Although I didn’t have an answer for every question I was asked, I learned that I should at least be able to provide a few names of authors that I like and the names of books that I enjoy to which my audience may be able to relate…oops! 😉
Third, I learned that I absolutely adore speaking as both a writer and author and I would jump at the chance to take part in another event should the opportunity arise again.
Thank you so very much Humberwood Downs JMA for this amazing experience and to you, Donna Campbell, for being a super-supportive Mommy and for planting the seeds that made the experience possible 🙂