In Cynthia’s last Monday post, she talked about letting go of her book, her book that now has wings and is traversing a path of its very own. We’ve Got A Job has garnered so much love and sowed swaths of awe from reviewer to bookseller to classrooms across the country in just over a month since its release. But in her post, Cynthia said, “I suppose I won’t really know whether a young reader embraces We’ve Got a Job with her or his heart until I hear from one.”
I have no doubt that those letters will come flooding in– from kids who had no idea that the Birmingham children’s marches ever existed before they read Cynthia’s book, and from kids who are in awe of the children who changed history.
A little over a year ago, I blogged here on Emu’s Debuts about my students’ reactions to the news that I was going to have a book published. They were excited and 100% convinced that I would become famous. When the Flying the Dragon ARCs arrived from Charlesbridge last month, I brought one in to show my students and the colleagues with whom I work closely. They were excited and 100% convinced that I will become famous.
Which is sweet, but I know it’s because they know me and we love working together. If Charlesbridge had agreed to publish my latest grocery list, my students would have been excited and convinced that I was going to be famous. And then one of my colleagues asked if she could read the ARC aloud to her 4th grade class. I gulped and then said yes.
I could not believe how nervous I was to hear how it was going. For the next few days, I wondered if they had started the book. Were they already on chapter five and hated it but didn’t want to tell me?? On the day they did start the book, they came down to the library wanting to tell me about the parts they’d read. A few days later, they got to the part where one of the main characters, Hiroshi, completely embarrasses himself in front of his ESL class. One student said that he cracked up at that part, while another girl said she laughed but immediately felt guilty because she felt sorry for Hiroshi and has had a similar thing happen to her. Then one of them asked me if Hiroshi’s grandfather really was ill, and before I could answer, the other student chimed in saying that of course he was ill, which started a debate between the two over Grandfather’s health that had nothing (apparently) to do with me–I just stood there and listened. It was the most surreal experience–two readers (of my book!) discussing a character I created, like they knew that character already and didn’t need my input, thank you very much. I absolutely loved it.
I have no idea what reviewers will say about my book, or other kids, for that matter. But listening to those students spontaneously talk about my book and my characters, it hit me that it’s not really my book anymore. Even though the release date isn’t for another 3 1/2 months, my part in creating the book is over. The marketing side may be gearing up, but the words on the pages are finished. I have to let my characters go and let readers interpret them as they see fit.
Cynthia, I know you’ll be hearing from kids soon–at school visits, via email, and maybe even by snail mail. They will embrace–are already embracing–Wash, James, Audrey and Arnetta into their hearts whether word gets back to you, or not. Even though we won’t always know where our characters end up, we have to trust that they will find their way.