School Visit: Charlottesville, Va.

Biographies can be deceiving: I was born in Charlottesville, and my parents live there today. Yet I’ve spent relatively little time there — my parents left for New York when I was less than a year old, and didn’t move back until after I’d graduated from college. But it’s a great town, and I’m always happy to spend time there — and was happier still to get to bring the Jupiter Pirates to the kids of Meriwether Lewis Elementary School.

(Photos courtesy of Andrea Atkinson)
(Photos courtesy of Andrea Atkinson)

This was a really fun visit — I started with a group of kindergarteners, then spoke to several classes of fourth graders, and finished the day off addressing a really big group of second and third graders in the school gym. I’d never spoken in a gym before (the acoustics were awesome) and as I was getting ready I flashed back to walking down the hall of my own elementary school for an assembly or some other kind of special presentation. I remember there’d always be a mix of excitement about something that wasn’t the usual routine and worry that the special event would turn out to be boring. That’s a good thing for a speaker to remember — don’t be the person the kids remember as boring.

Anyway, the kids seemed to like the reading I did from Hunt for the Hydra, and they had some truly inventive ideas about why Blackbeard had fuses in his hair. One question I really liked: “Do you love actually writing?” I answered that one honestly: I do like writing, but it can be frustrating when things aren’t going well and it’s often lonely because it’s something you can only do by yourself. So yes, I like writing, but I like having written even more. That’s partially a joke, but really not: It’s much more fun to share something you’ve written so that you can hear what people think about it. That’s the essence of storytelling — sharing a story with someone else and thinking about what they heard in that story. It’s different than writing, but without writing you don’t get to do it.

Plus this was unexpected: After one student coolly identified Blackbeard as Edward Teach, another noted that his ancestor Alexander Spotswood had been the man who brought the famous pirate to justice. Whoa!

Oh, and this visit probably had the loudest collection of “ARRRR!”s I’ve ever had to open Jupiter Pirates presentations. The teachers actually looked a bit scared:

Huge thanks to Andrea Atkinson for making everything run so smoothly, to the Meriwether Lewis teachers, and of course to the kids!

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I have more school visits in the works — next month I’ll be in Baton Rouge and New Orleans before doing a visit just a couple of blocks away here in Brooklyn. If you’d be interested in having me visit your school or library, please contact me at I’m comfortable with classes K-12 and can talk books, storytelling, tips for a happier writing process, or most anything else you can think of. Since time spent visiting is time not writing, I do typically charge for author visits — my baseline is $500 a day depending on location, situation, and so forth — but if that gives you pause, let me know what you have in mind and we’ll see if we can figure something out. I love watching kids get up from their desks excited about reading, storytelling, and writing, so if I can help, give me a shout!