The Very First & Last Page

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.

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3 years ago

This is a great snap­shot of the cur­rent “class­room” for so many teach­ers and kids. I loved their ques­tions — and your respons­es and reflections.

Joyce Sidman
3 years ago

Melanie, you are so tuned in to these small souls with big hearts!

Lynne Jonell
3 years ago

What a ten­der and hilar­i­ous piece, Melanie! You put me right there in the class­room with you, and the teacher, and the earnest kinder­gart­ners. (So, when ARE you going to write that book about dinosaurs?)