Chicago Bound

I’m flying off to the Windy City this afternoon to visit two schools, Thomas Middle School and Northbrook Junior High. This will be my first visits of the new school year, so I’m looking to kick out the cobwebs, blow the rust off my thumb drive, and hopefully make a positive impression. The idea for me is always to try to leave each school a little bit better than when I first arrive.

This is another example of my book, Bystander, opening new doors for me, as it was my first true middle school book, featuring 7th-grade characters. So many books fade away with barely a whimper (even the good ones!), it’s such a blessing that this one seems to have taken hold in schools across the country, places where they are eager to read, explore and perhaps illuminate some of the issues that center on the bully-target-bystander dynamic. But mostly I hope this is a book that keeps readers turning the pages, a book they’ll enjoy. If it inspires students to think, well, amen to that. We can use all the thinking we can get around here.

Tomorrow, my kids, Maggie (6th) and Gavin (8th), go off the Middle School together, so I’m pretty steeped in this age group. My oldest, Nick, is now a sophomore in college. Yikes.

One other really nice aspect of this trip is that I am finally going to meet two of my publishing pals, Julie Halpern and (the insanely prolific) Matthew Cordell. That’s right, I’m spending a night on their couch — and I’m keeping any change I find under the cushions. That money’s mine. And the Cheetos, too. Matthew and I first met, electronically, when we did a picture book together, Mighty Casey (speaking of books that fade away). We bonded over Arnold Lobel and William Steig, Bob Dylan and Townes Van Zandt, and we’ve become true friends entirely through email. Now I guess we’re putting that notion to the test. I also share a publisher with Matt’s wife, Julie, who is a librarian and a terrific writer. She’s deep and funny and I’m a huge fan.

I am really looking forward to hanging out with those guys. They have a young daughter, too, Romy, who keeps asking, “When’s Preller coming?” That cracks me up.

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