Thursday, May 12, 2016

Author Event: April Henry

Tuesday's field trip to hear April Henry speak at Powell's kind of snuck up on me.  I'd known about it for so long that I couldn't take care of some of the details that far in advance, and then all of a sudden, it was time to go.  I called Powell's that very afternoon to warn them we'd be descending on them again with a horde of middle schoolers, and their event coordinator already knew--BECAUSE THE AUTHOR HAD TOLD HER.  I thought that was super cool, just as I was thrilled when Ms. Henry emailed me after I tweeted my excitement about taking the kids to see her.

I literally finished reading Girl, Stolen to one class on the day of the event.  The final three chapters are doozies, and kids were yelling their shock and anxiety as I read.  I am not sure what the teacher in the next room thought, but I doubt he suspected there was a read-aloud going on.

So we were pretty pumped for the event.  I had 26 kids, mostly girls, and our library assistant graciously came along to help chaperone.  While the kids were perhaps a tiny bit more excited about visited the Coldstone Creamery in the same mall and giggling to each other about some of Powell's more interesting knick-knacks (meaning anything related to smoking weed) than they were about looking for books, there were several kids who browsed the stacks, and they all settled down for the presentation.

Ms. Henry started her talk by telling about all the times she nearly quit as a writer.  Her message was very empowering; that stubbornness and hard work can take you places even if you feel like your raw talent is "less than" someone else's.  We got a little riff on touring for book promotions and the things that people give authors.  (Starbucks card and bottle of Advil = good.  Ten pound bag of crummy candy to eat alone in a hotel room = bad.)

Then she got into talking about her books.  She told us about the true-life inspiration for her latest book, The Girl I Used to Be.  I started reading it to a class today, and it's definitely a case of truth being stranger than fiction.  I would've assumed she made up dramatic details for the story but nope, the basic set-up is exactly the same as something that happened up in Washington in the 1980s.  I knew already that she's a stickler for details and tests out experiences her characters have to make sure she's writing about them realistically.  One story involved her putting her foot in a boot cast, handcuffing herself, and trying to film herself running through a wooded park for the book trailer of her current book.  The handcuffs were okay, but the boot was problematic.  People gave her funny looks, but seemed to accept that if she looked cheerful, she was neither fleeing police custody nor in escaping a psychopath.  She had plenty of other great stories, but I don't want to steal her act here.  If you get a chance to hear her speak, take it!

She shared a disturbing story that is also on her web page, about a very narrow escape from a man who broke into her house with the clear intent of harming her.  In the essay, she says it took her years to realize that her habit of writing young women into danger, then having them figure out how to rescue themselves, stems from this incident.

During the Q&A, one of my students horrified all of us by asking what her favorite color is ("Teal," she said gamely), but other questions were more on point, and received thoughtful replies.  Several of us stood in line to have her sign our new books, and in my awestruck state I repeated everything I'd told her when I first contacted her--that I went to the high school she sends her characters to, that I'd first seen her at a conference last October and picked up one of her books for my classroom then.  I tried to get a photo of her with her terrific "police line do not cross" leggings, about which she had another funny story, but my camera was being uncooperative.

Ms. Henry started out writing humorous mysteries, and also writes a series of adult thrillers with a co-author.  Her other YA thrillers that my students and I have enjoyed include The Night She Disappeared (which is my favorite besides Girl Stolen), The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die and The Body in the Woods and its sequel, Blood Will Tell.   Between my classroom and the school library we have at least twenty copies of her books, and we can't keep them on the shelves in either location.  I'm so glad we got the chance to meet her and to bring back her new book and her fun stories for all the kids who couldn't accompany us.

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