Last week I zoom-visited a kindergarten class to read my own picture book. The class was terrific and at the end we had a time for Q & A. They are working on the difference between asking a question and “sharing.” It’s an important and difficult skill.
One little girl, who might’ve been a stringer for the New York Times, or perhaps an after-school prosecutor, so mature and earnest in her questioning was she, asked to see “the very first page of the book.” I’ve never been asked this before and felt a bit nervous, as if I were being cross-examined, as I opened the book to the title page. I traced again the words of the title, my name as author, and the illustrator’s name, reiterating that “illustrator” meant the artist who drew the pictures. (I always do this on the cover of the book before I begin reading.) We examined the picture included on the title page, and I read them the name of the book’s publisher at the bottom of the page.
The girl leaned in — pretty sure she was double checking things.
Two kids tried to share instead of ask a question and were re-directed, to their obvious frustration. The teacher reiterated the difference between questions and shares. The little girl who’d so nicely modeled a question looked bored. A boy eagerly waving his hand was called upon. He unmuted himself and then it became clear that what he’d really been dying to say was also a “share” not a question, though he pivoted quickly and asked to see “the very last page of the book.” The girl who modeled appropriate questioning looked a titch irritated at this near-plagiarism of her question.
But I thought this was an interesting question, as well. The last page of many/most picture books often features the dedications and the copyright information. I don’t usually read it when I read the story. But why not? I read my dedication to my parents, and Jaime Kim’s (illustrator) dedication to her family. We noticed the last page also included a picture. Thinking this was all that would be of interest, I got ready to close the book.
But the little girl who’d asked about the first page was leaning in, her face looming larger than the rest. I saw her, muted, ask the adult who was with her what the tiny words on the bottom half of the last page were. She raised her hand, earnest vibes pulsating from her zoom square. I prepared to answer, succinctly and at a kindergarten level, about the copyright information, Library of Congress Catalog Number, printing information, including the typeset and art supplies used in the book, and the address of the publisher.
I was saved, however, by the egalitarian teacher who wanted to give other kids a chance to share — or rather, ask a question! — which they did. Did I live with my parents? How old are they? Did I draw the shapes of the pictures, at least, so that Jaime could fill them in with colors and paints? They were astounded to hear I had no contact with the illustrator of the book until the book was published. (Most people are astounded by this.) How did she get the pictures so nice — so there were no “white dots” (i.e. uncolored parts)?
Have I written books about dinosaurs? This was asked by a kindergartener who modestly informed me he has written four books about dinosaurs. No doubt he has illustrated them, as well — young kids are all author-illustrators, I’ve noticed. Why do so many of us lose this skill?
I’m always inspired when I do a class visit. I’m in awe of the teachers. Especially now — Zoom Kindergarten?! And I’m flabbergasted anew by the brains of kids — how they think, their chutzpah in asking questions, their need to understand, to get things right. I love their unassuming confidence. And their kindness — they always look at me with such sorrow on their faces when I tell them I just write the words, that someone else creates the pictures. They look as if they want to give me a pep talk so that I might be able to write a book in two (or three) languages, as they can, and do.
If I thought about it too much, I’d never be able to read to, let along write for, these children. They’re so marvelous. What a gift it is to share books with them.