As time nears for the annual Faye B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival at the University of Southern Mississippi, I manage my wait time by reminiscing about festivals past. For several years, I’ve been a driver for one of the guests. I can’t remember exactly how this started, but I have suspicions that it may be similar to the way I handled pesky kids who hung around my desk by giving them something to do.
One of my favorite memories from this assignment comes from the year I drove Richard Peck. USM had finished making the campus pedestrian friendly by closing off several streets that used to run through the campus. On our return from supper at the Alumni House, I took a street that had become a dead end. With cars parked on both sides of a narrow street and another car behind me, I proceeded to rock my car back and forth to get turned around.
About halfway through this process, I invoked the name of what may be Richard’s most beloved character from his books. “Richard, before this is over, you may wish that Grandma Dowdel was driving.”
“Oh, no,” he said. “She can’t drive either.”
The laughter from the two back seat passengers drowned out his assurance that he was kidding.
Besides having a quick wit and being a genuinely nice person, Richard also gave good advice to attendees at the festival:
• You have to read 1,000 books before you write one.
• The Great American Theme is coming-of-age.
• You always learn the most from the experience you would have avoided if you could.
• You can only write by the light of the bridges burning behind you.
This month’s Horn Book Magazine gives another quote from him, “We write in admiration of better writers than we are.” For me, one of those is Richard Peck.