Picture from "The Library Dragon" by Carmen Agra Deedy, illustrations by Michael P. White

"Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist.
Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed."
- G. K. Chesterton

Saturday, January 25, 2014

It's Always Darkest Before the SUNRISE

Switching careers midlife has been pretty stressful but I have also had some awesome new experiences that I wouldn’t have had if I’d stayed at my high school media center.  One of these was organizing an author visit.  My middle school students, overall, seem to be more excited about books and visiting the library than my former high school students.  They definitely check out a lot more books.  I had always wanted to have an author visit at the high school but never felt there’d be sufficient interest.  So when I discovered there was an Indianapolis author on the cusp of hitting it big willing to come spend a day at my school, I jumped on the opportunity.

Mike Mullins is the author of the Ashfall Trilogy (Ashfall, Ashen Winter, and Sunrise) a fictional series about what might happen after the eruption of the Yellowstone super volcano.  The series focuses on a young teen’s experiences during and after this catastrophic event.  With his home destroyed and his town terrifyingly unrecognizable, Alex sets off to find his family who had been visiting out of state relatives when the eruption occurred.  Along the way he discovers he must rely on survival skills he never even knew he possessed.  He also finds first love with Darla, his traveling companion and frequent rescuer.  In today’s glut of dystopian YA novels, Ashfall stands out because it’s set in our world and our time and it could actually happen to US.

One of the great things about Mike’s visit was hearing him describe just how such an event could happen. Many author visits tend to excite primarily the language arts teachers and students who love to read and write already.  Mike is unique in that he can discuss with some authority the science behind his books.  This fact enabled me to get my science teachers on board so that Mike ended up giving his presentation on "The Geology of Ashfall” to all the seventh grade science classes.  We also offered a “Lunch with the Author” for sixth & eighth grade students.   Overall, Mike talked to close to 250 students that day yet his energy never faltered. The enthusiasm Mike brings to his presentations, as well as his ability to explain difficult scientific concepts in understandable terms, kept the students excited and engaged. 

Mike also demonstrated the importance of preparation and research by sharing his own experiences during the writing of this series.  He talked about the mountains of science books he had to read to make sure his facts were correct. Since he wanted to give Alex self-defense skills while still keeping him an average kid, Mike actually joined a dojo and learned Taekwondo himself.  Not only did this give him insight into his character, but it made for an exciting conclusion to his presentation.  The students crowded around, even stood on chairs, to see Mike break a concrete block in half. He autographed books for students and staff and provided my Media Center with an autographed book and several signed concrete blocks he had broken during his taekwondo demonstrations.

My first author visit was a rousing success.  For those old enough to remember the Mary Tyler Moore show, I felt like Mary when she spun around and threw her hat into the air as the opening song says “you might just make it after all!”  It was the first real bright spot in an otherwise overwhelmingly bleak year.  So it’s no wonder that I gave Mike a big hug at the end of the day and have been a bit obsessed with him and his books ever since.  It doesn’t hurt that he’s a genuinely nice, down to earth guy either.  Would I recommend booking him for your next author visit?  Most definitely, but do it soon - it’s only a matter of time before he and his books explode (like a super volcano) into the next big thing.

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