Friday, December 14, 2012

Sandy Hook Elementary

Photo courtesy of the News Times.
I woke today to the early reports of violence on the Sandy Hook Elementary School campus in Newtown, Connecticut.  A gunman stormed the principal's office, then his mother's kindergarten class.  In minutes,20-year-old Adam Lanza, holding his brother Ryan Lanza's ID, was dead.  So were his mother, and six other adults.  So were 20 children, probably five-year-olds.

My heart is broken.

I visit elementary schools all over the country.  I visit those same kindergarten classrooms, where there shiny little faces are so new and so excited they are impossible not to adore.  They ask in appropriate questions.  They spin.  They giggle.  They love.  They radiate hope and promise -- perfect little clean slates eager to learn and connect in any way possible.

What could drive a young man -- a good looking kid who looks like my daughter's friends -- to gun down his mother and 20 of her tiny students with two semi-automatic pistols?  What statement could he be hoping to make by going to her school to take his last stand?  Why claim those perfect, innocent victims along with his mother?  

Where did we go wrong?

I hear cries of gun control, and I agree.  We need to find a way to keep guns out of the hands of people likely to snap.  But how can we tell which people will turn to violence?

I hear cries of tighter security at schools.  But locked doors would have opened easily to the son of a teacher at the school.  No one would have suspected he was a danger, would they?

It's all speculation at this point.  But could the shooter have suffered with mental health issues?  Seems pretty crazy to gun down a classroom full of kids, if you ask me.  Kids exactly like those kids that welcome me every time I visit a school.   Was this young man mentally ill and we simply missed it?  If he was, how can we get better at recognizing and correcting the symptoms of the mentally ill?

I remember, vividly, the year Ronald Reagan turned the mentally ill out onto the streets, saying inpatient treatment was cheaper...that there was no need for mental hospitals that cost the taxpayers so much money.  I remember the immediate rise of homeless people who may have planned to take their meds, but somehow forgot or got confused or couldn't afford them.

I am a flaming liberal, but I hesitate to take guns from responsible gun owners. I know a lot of people who keep them safely for self defense or as collectors.  They don't worry me -- now.  But I do wonder how we can be sure those reliable people will never slip over to the dark side?  We can't be sure about that.  Depression strikes, as do other common mental illnesses.  So it seems to me, we can only hope to prevent this kind of violence by being more careful about who gets guns AND by tending to people with mental illness more effectively. 

Most importantly, the discussions have to begin.  We don't need defensive nonsense from partisan mouth pieces.  We need real conversations from all sides.  We need to find a way to better protect our kindergarteners, our middle schoolers, our high schoolers, our college campuses, even our parents and grandparents.

We have to TALK ABOUT IT to make it better.  Period.

I'm in tears thinking about those perfect little people, their lives cut short.  Senseless can be defined by this shooters selfish choices.  We will never know what magic they did and would have brought to our world.  But the loss is immeasurable.

In the days and weeks to come, please let us do SOMETHING so they will not have died for nothing.

My heart is broken.  Those kids, like all kids, were my tribe.  I wish their parents any comfort they can find.  I wish, how I wish, there was something I could do to help them.


Saturday, December 8, 2012

Edmonds, Seattle & Bellevue

After NCTE, I was sick as a dog -- so I basically slept through Kerry's birthday and Thanksgiving (sorry baby girl).  Then I headed to the Washington Coast for a week of school visits at Edmonds, Seattle and Bellevue elementary schools.  I was a little bit altered at the first three schools, thanks to three different over the counter cold meds I took to quiet all my symptoms.  But I think I did a good job, even with the floating sensation.  I sure loved the kids and the teachers and the sensational librarians who coordinated the whole thing. Ann Bell-Hayes and her kids at Cedar Way made this and other signs to welcome me.  And boy, did I feel welcome.  Ann even picked me up at the airport, snuffy nose and all.  Bless her for pretending not to notice how sick I was.  : )

Ann's friend Kristine McLane at North Beach Elementary in Seattle took my picture at the close of her school day for a new READ poster.  She warned me my curly hair wouldn't look perfect.  I reminded her I'd never had a perfect hair day with that curly hair, so I'd be fine with it.  And boy do I love the poster she created.  Thanks, Kristine -- for the poster and the cool ride from Seattle to Bellevue.  I had no idea how fast paced things were in these high energy cities until you gave me the tour!  FUN! 

On my last day, I visited Linda Peterson at Woodridge Elementary.  Parent volunteer Melanie Pang picked me up and took me to the school, and the fun never stopped.  Melanie and I are Facebook friends now.  Neat!  The kids were so wonderfully prepared, they knew just what to expect.  That was true at all five schools, and I appreciate it so much.  One of Linda's students -- a Russian girl named Madino -- had done a review of my new book, TIGER IN TROUBLE so I posed for a picture beside it.  Madino gave me FIVE STARS so she's my new best friend.  How great is that?

Thank you, Ann Swenson at Madrona School, Joan Maybank at Beverly Elementary, Ann Hayes-Bell at Cedar Way Elementary, Kristine McLane at North Beach Elementary and Linda Peterson at Woodridge Elementary.  You ignored my sniffles and, together, we made it a week to remember.  I will forever be grateful -- truly.  You are the BEST.

NCTE 2012 in Las Vegas

Three weeks ago, I was lucky enough to attend my first NCTE in Las Vegas.  My publisher, Chronicle Books, sent me to promote GIRL MEETS BOY.  I was also part of a panel on reaching reluctant readers with Ellen Hopkins, Terry Trueman and Bruce Hale -- moderated by Cari Sandler.

Every aspect of the experience was sensational.  I had dinner with Claire Rudolf Murphy and Meghan Nuttall Sayres the first night -- even tossed a few dollars in the slot machines.  I ran into Teri Lesesne and Paul Hankin, walking the MGM Grand mall toward the conference center. 

I attended Claire's panel on using picture books for older readers -- sensational.  I also sat in on Charlie Price's panel on mystery novels for young adults.  Charlie is not just a great mystery writer (who won the 2011 Edgar Award), he used to teach at the Lakeside Alternative School with Chris Crutcher, MANY years ago.

My own panel was so terrific, in large part because all of the authors on it with me were people I knew and respected enormously.  Makes for a great panel.  And any discussion on reaching reluctant readers is important to me.  That's always my primary target audience.   So grateful to Cari for putting the proposal together. 
Finally, Chris Crutcher, Terry Trueman and I signed copies of GIRL MEETS BOY at the Chronicle booth.  It was a little crazy.  Chris had just signed ARC copies of his new book, PERIOD 8 at HarperCollins and he was bouncing from the Chronicle table to the exhibit hall isles like a ping pong ball.  But I really appreciated the fact that he and Terry took the time to sign the anthology.  I was grateful.  Truly.

I left Las Vegas brain adled and sick -- a sinus infection and chest cold this time (not strep throat).  But it was a wonderful opportunity, one I hope I get to experience another time in the not so distant future.  Thank you, Chronicle Books, Claire Rudolf Murphy, Meghan Nuttall Sayres, Cari Sadler, Ellen Hopkins, Bruce Hale,  Chris Crutcher and Terry Trueman.  Thank you everyone else I saw, met, spoke with.  My first NCTE was truly great.