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Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Behind the Poem, “What She Asked”

one of Virginia’s many popular books for upper middle grade and teen readers

Listen to Virginia’s poem, “What She Asked,” on Poetry Mosaic, the April 7th entry, and then read her description of the real-life event behind the poem.

In a rural Oregon high school where I taught English more than 20 years ago, we had big teaching areas separated by screen-wall things, but they came nowhere near reaching the high ceiling, because a few years earlier the design of the school had been to have a giant Resource Center and Library, and teachers and groups of students would ideally meet in sections of the massive room, and that would be school. Didn’t turn out that way (of course): Acoustics were the main problem, but also the continuous human traffic through, coming and going in the Library section. So the dividers arrived, and we had somewhat discrete class areas, but not really. If the neighboring class area was noisy, focus and concentration were difficult. In one or two periods of the day, my area’s nearest neighbor was Human Health and Sexuality, and we who were studying fiction heard “and the condoms don’t always work,” etc.

“What She Asked,” is including in this poetry anthology, published by Pomelo Books, 2016

There were the occasional paper airplanes. One or two per week, maybe. 

One afternoon, in the sleepy after-lunch period, I whisperingly asked my class (high school juniors, maybe some sophomores) to make paper airplanes and we would send them, on signal, over the wall to Human Health and Sexuality.

“Can we make more than one?” “Sure! As many as you can fly all at once,” said I. I insisted that they understand that only at my signal would the fleet of airplanes have the desired effect of simultaneity. I, too, made one paper airplane.

On my own personal count of 3, it worked. I think we must have sent over 40+ airplanes into the next class. Great fun. The teacher had a fine sense of humor (her fields were Biology and Ski Coaching) and she liked the dramatic moment of it. Of course Human Health and Sexuality sent the planes back, but I suppose we won because we had done it first. And simultaneously.

4 Responses to Behind the Poem, “What She Asked”

  1. David LaRochelle April 14, 2017 at 4:23 pm #

    I had wondered what was the background behind this idea. I had thought that maybe it was something you experienced as a child, but I love hearing that it was an event that you orchestrated yourself as a teacher!

    • Virginia Euwer Wolff April 16, 2017 at 3:57 pm #

      Thanks, David. I suppose we all have images and fragments of images drifting around in memory, waiting for us to open the attic door and poke around in there. This was a harmless enough one, I guess. Thank you for noticing!

  2. Martha Capovilla May 4, 2018 at 11:46 am #

    Virginia just shared this with me! I was the teacher on the other side of the “wall” talking about condoms and other interesting topics. EXACTLY how I remember that wonderfully engaging day 🙂 Thanks much for this and many other memories of teaching next door to an amazing woman.

    • Virginia Euwer Wolff May 7, 2018 at 10:12 am #

      Gosh, thanks, Martha. I can still see those paper planes coming back over the wall, straggling across, a few at a time, from your class. I continue to think we won, because we at least attempted a kind of flying-in-formation. But you’re the amazing one: coaching kids hurtling down dangerously steep hillsides on purpose.

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