By Michelle Simon, Middle and Upper School Head Librarian
There is nothing like an engaging author visit to invigorate a school community and ignite the desire for story and storytelling. The library speaker series at the Wildwood middle and upper school welcomed both Jason Reynolds and Ellen Oh this fall. Excitement still lingers after our most recent visit from young-adult author Jason Reynolds. When he stepped on stage he said he wasn’t going to talk about his books, because students could read them, instead, he shared his own story and life experience. He was quick-paced, funny, mesmerizing, and authentic as he spoke about his life growing up in the 80s and 90s—a time of innocence and fun, but also of drugs and violence in America. As a kid, he wasn’t exposed to books that resonated with him and he deliberately chose to not read books. It wasn’t until age 17, after reading Black Boy by Richard Wright, that he related to a protagonist and developed a love of words and story. He soon became a best-selling author writing what he knows. He is now a Newbery Award honoree, a Printz Award honoree, a National Book Award honoree, a Kirkus Prize winner, a two-time Walter Dean Myers Award winner, an NAACP Image Award winner, and the recipient of multiple Coretta Scott King honors.
Visiting authors are powerful for kids. Since Jason’s visit, his novels have been continuously off the library shelves. Simply hearing from authors about their processes and motivations can be what a previously reluctant reader needs to entice them and lead them to the right book. Eighth grader Toby M. said, “He made me want to read Miles Morales: Spider-Man after he talked about how he was thinking differently about the story of Spider-Man and how he could make the character more relatable.” Seventh grader Conner R. said, “I liked the way he spoke to us so honestly and not like students, but as friends.”
In October, Ellen Oh, young adult author, co-founder, president, and CEO of the nonprofit We Need Diverse Books presented to all middle school students about the writing process and had writing workshops with 8th graders. During her middle school presentation she too discussed the struggle to find books that reflected her experience as Korean-American and the need for diversity in the publishing industry. A group of voracious upper school readers and students from the Wildwood Institute for Social Good and Community Leadership met with Ellen for a working lunch. The students asked about how to move from passion to organized action, and what makes the process successful. Alexus P., 9th grader, commented, “Being able to connect with someone so well-rounded and versatile opened my eyes to new perspectives on shaping my community. I’m really fortunate to be in a community that allows for so many interesting opportunities.”
We look forward to welcoming visiting authors throughout the school year and invite you to read more about them in our Newsroom. We are grateful to our Annual Giving donors for making the author series possible.