Three Questions

A package in Tuesday’s mail reminded me of the three questions of 1999. The first had begun in the spring when I heard new children’s author Kimberly Willis Holt at our Louisiana chapter of SCBWI children’s writers. She had three books out – Mister and Me, My Louisiana Sky, and newly published When Zachary Beaver Came to Town. As I listened, I remembered the grant-writing invitation from the Louisiana Arts Commission that I hoped was still on my desk and not in the waste basket. Dreaming big, I asked if she would share her enthusiasm and writing knowledge in a workshop with my junior high language arts students in Leesville, Louisiana if I could get the grant money. We set a tentative date and agreement.

The second question arose in late summer. I opened the living section of the Alexandria Town Talk and found a spread with Kimberly’s picture announcing that Zachary Beaver was a finalist on the National Book Award list. Would she win? I had ambivalent feelings. Yes, I wanted her to win. No, I didn’t want to lose a golden opportunity for my students, which seemed inevitable with the time demands on a National Book Award Winner. I hadn’t heard from the grant, and we only had the tentative verbal agreement for her workshop.

Soon, the announcement of her NBA win brought another spread for the Town Talk. Kimberly’s grandparents lived a few miles south of Alexandria, and Louisiana is proud of its own. I was excited for her but uneasy for my students as the third question loomed. Would a National Book Award Winner have time for small town Leesville in rural Vernon Parish on the road to nowhere except Fort Polk? I still hadn’t heard from the grant.

I gave her time to enjoy her moment before I called to see if we remained on her schedule. She acknowledged the new whirlwind of her life, but said she’d discussed scheduling promises with her husband Jerry. They’d decided that an agreement was an agreement. Eventually, the grant came through.

What a week my students had! What credibility I had when she left! Here was a “real writer” telling them the same things I’d told them. What a wonderful friendship began that week as Kimberly and I found so many things in common with our military families – included our shared wedding date with her parents. How I have enjoyed the plethora of middle grade and picture books that have come from her pen in the years to follow – including her series on Piper Reed, based on the military childhood she shared with many of my students!

The package took me back to 1999 with a poster, a copy of the fifteenth anniversary edition of When Zachary Beaver Came to Town, and a note from Kimberly claiming memories that match mine. I think I’ll take a break and go renew my acquaintance with Zachary. If you haven’t met him, pick up an anniversary copy and give yourself a treat.