“She’s looking for a school to visit.”

“Sally, I just got an email. Nic Stone will be in the area for an event in March and also wants to visit a school. Would you be interested in hosting her?” the book seller at my local independent bookstore asked.

I was visiting the bookstore on the day they announced the ALA book awards, naturally with a list in hand to purchase a few of the award winning books. I could not believe my ears. “Really? Nic Stone! Yes! When?” was my minimal, starstruck reply.

After jotting down the particulars and then the next day at school getting my administration’s approval, the date of the event was set – March 16th at 10am. An event to promote her newly released paperback novel, Fast Pitch.

Over the past few weeks, posters have been hung. The six fast pitch softball player/students are set to introduce her and ask her questions.Two welcome signs are hung. Some research about the Negro Baseball Leaugue has been completed. A parking space is reserved and a stack of preordered books await her autograph.


“One word. Surprise!”

“Teachers, please have ALL 7th graders to the auditorium seated at 11:00am. The admin will be leading a ‘restart,” I heard during the morning announcements by the principal in a sternerr-than-usual voice.

Yikes, I thought. Which school rule needs addressing and really…this close to winter break?

Ms. Donnelly, you’re needed in the auditorium. Now. ” the school secretary commanded.

Really, I thought. Did someone forget to tell me I was helping with the 7th grade restart assembly?

“Don’t ask why. Just follow me to the auditorium. And can I use your phone for a minute?” my colleague requested.

My phone, I thought. I guess. But why? What’s really going on here. As I entered the filled auditoium, the 7th grade AP was settling the students as she spoke through the mic.

“When I say ‘Phoenix’, you say….” and the audience shouted “RISE!
Phoenix – RISE – Phoenix – RISE.
” and then she share, “A text I want to use today to help us with our restart
is a book I know Mrs. Donnelly likes,
a book by author Kwame Alexander called The Door of No Return…..”

At that moment it hit me…….

You see, months ago, I created a lesson for my students to learn about Kwame, a favorite author of mine.
I made this padlet and added these directions.

Meet Kwame Alexander!!
Directions: Follow from Step 1 to Step 2 to Step 3 to Step 4.
After each step, add a one sentence response by clicking the bubble.

After learning about him, I asked for volunteers to help make a video to send to Kwame to persuade him to visit our school for free (his contest announced in Step 3). Together we drafted a script and 5 students agreed to deliver our message.
HERE is our video which I shared on instagram for Kwame.

Then I kinda forgot about it. Every so often a student would ask, “Is Kwame coming? Did he pick us?”
And I would say, “Not sure.” But inside, I really, really, really wanted him to pick us!!

You see, personally, I’ve attended many, many Kwame events. I consider myself a Kwame-groupie!
I’ve blogged about two of them here and here .
But these events I attended on my own and never included my own students.
If he picks us, he’d visit the school!!! Our students would meet him!!! They’d be like the students in Step 2, I thought.

And suddenly it all clicked. Kwame had picked us!
The auditorium erupted as he entered from the back. I about lost my mind! A student told me afterwards, I looked like I had drank a very large energy drink because she saw me jumping up and down. “OMG….we won!! He’s really here!!” I shouted junping up and down.

He took the mic and said. “I have one word to share. SURPRISE!!”

Then for 40 minutes, he shared poems, all from memory. He shared about his new book. Just when we had us all on the edge of our seats, he stopped….you’ll have to read the rest on your own!! He answered loads of MS questions. Favorite color – black. Favorite number – 1. Favorite to win the World Cup – England. Where does he get his inspiration – from visits like this where kids wearing cool hats and who have cool hair! How often does he write – every day for 4 hours from 7-11am. Did he ever want to be something besides a writer – a tennis player and a pediatrician but in college, he tried biology and quickly changed his major to poetry. (The world is so lucky he did!)

Then he circled the auditoium, taking selfies with the audience. And kindly posed for a photo with me and the box of books he gifted us!!

WOW!!!! Today was my favorite day at DHMS!!
Here’s the link to see Kwame’s entrance at my school.
He does have the best job!!
And today he made me realize I have a pretty great job, too!!

Which author would you love to have a surprise visit from??!!!


HERE is our Instragram THANK YOU to Kwame.

HERE is the video of his 25 minute surprise presentation!!

2022 National Book Festival

In-person on Saturday! I filled my red bag with snacks, wallet, iPhone, notebook, pens, my mask and a fleece jacket. My husband agreed to drop me off and in less than 30-minutes after leaving home, I departed our electric car ready to enjoy a day among my heros – authors!

I entered the mamouth DC convention center – 4 blocks long and 4 double height floors high. As I joinined a short entrance line today, my mind recalled the last time I was here for this annual event. It was November, 2019 and that day the author with the biggest draw was U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the line to enter the fesitval was wrapped around the center. Eventually, I got in and spent the day on the lowest floor, enjoying moments with children’s authors. Due to crowds and high security, I arrived too late to listen to RBG or explore other floors that day. On this day, without such a crowd, I explored all four floors, meeting authors for children, young adults, and adults, attending a total of 7 presentations from 9:30am-6pm. And I did take a moment to fondly remember RBG who passed away 10 months after the last in-person 2019 National Book Festival. (Thanks to the Library of Congress, I took time to watch the session I missed that day in 2019 as it is recorded HERE.).

One presentation I was drawn to related to this book:

I am a big fan of John Lewis (another amazing great American who passed during the pandemic) and I wanted to know more about the friendship he shared with a young black boy named Tybra Faw and then written about in this book by Andrea Pinkney. Tabre Faw, now age 14, was on the stage with the author and a LOC moderator. In their 30 minute exchanged, I became so inspired by this child who wanted to meet his hero, John Lewis. I learned he was asked to recite a favorite poem by John Lewis at his funeral. The moderator found the first published book of the poem Invictus in the LOC and gave each a photo of that book’s page. I quickly found this link from the funeral and am planning a lesson with my student readers to include this book, the March triology by John Lewis and a discussion on how today, in 2022, we can be inspired to get ourselves into Good Trouble!

Ruby Bridges – Her book, I Am Ruby, comes out this week. After hearing her speak, I will buy it! She shared how she intentionality wrote it in first person as the 6-year old in Louisana on November 14, 196o, the day she atttended an all-white elementary school. She shared how knowing her story is still important as we are still dealing with issues of race.

Clint Smith – if you haven’t read his book, How the Word is Passed, order it now and read it! I so enjoyed being in his presence, listeing to him share why he visited actually sites as fieldtrips and then wrote about each place with regards to slavery. I also learned he hosts a course called Crash Course – Black American History. It is 50-episodes, all a combo of animation and primary source photo. I’ll be viewing these this fall to learn more.

Kwame Alexander – so amazing! His newest book comes out at the end of the month. His TV show based on The Crossover is coming out on Disney+ and he is launching a reality TV to find new authors! I was able to record a few things he said while being interviewed by Nic Stone. (See slideshow at end…I think the videos will open for you? If not, let me know and I’ll figure it out!)

2022 Award Winners and All Women of Diverse Background – three women writers, all 2022 award winners, were interviewed by Dhonielle Clayton, the COO of We Need Diverse Books. So inpiring!! All are using their voice and their writing to not allow their backgrounds to be erased. Donna Barba Higuera is Mexican American, Darci Little Badger is Apache American, and Malinda Lo is Chinese American. Darci Little Badger‘s comment is still with me. She stated that she had read in a history book that Apache’s were extinct. She explained that this was a olonial message trying to erase native voices and is wrong. “As a writer, I will keep at it.”

Authors of Blackout – WOW! I did not know that these 6 authors had all collaborating to write Blackout. It was the brainchild of Dhonielle Clayton who invited/told Nic Stone, Tiffany Jackson, Ashley Woodfolk, Nicola Yoon, and Angie Thomas (Thomas not at the festival) to work together to write one novel. I bought it and read it on Sunday! I can’t wait for their next collaborative work to come out called Whiteout. They also happily shared how Obama is producing their book as a TV and movie. They were motivated during Covid to write a novel with Black teenage characters in love. These women know how to write for Young Adults!!

Jason Reynolds – he was the perfect ending session for the festival, saving the best for last!! HIs newest book, Ain’t Burned All the Bright is a collaboration with his white, redhead friend also named Jason, Jason Griffin, an artist. During Covid, they both had trouble being creating, writing, making art. They talked often and something Jaosn G. said about needing an oxygen mask helped Jason R. to write 3 rather long sentences. He copied them down without any punctuation and handed them off to Jason G and asked him to add art as an artist response. This is now the book!. He felt the world was suffocating due to Covid, George Floyd, the tightening economy. When one is hyperventalating, taking 3 breathes can bring you back to equilibrium. This books is structured into three breathes with the purpose to bring us back to having hope. Get it and read its brilliant words and artwork.

I also create this slideshow to share with my students.


“Be OPEN to the possibilities!”

She stood holding the mic, stepping back and forth across the front of the auditorium in her red canvas high tops and a jean jacket, the perfect outfit to connect with her middle school audience. She started by sharing where she gets her ideas.

When writing this first novel, it was a photograph of a boy, sitting on a wall by the sea in Senegal.

It was walking outside her front door in DC, a place, and always seeing people protesting that inspired her to research 25 marches to become this nonfiction picture book.

For Daddy Speaks Love, it was her friend’s words telling her what George Floyd’s daughter said. She hadn’t even her the daughter speak the words but her friend told her about it.

For The Magici n Changing Your Stars novel, it was her dog,(my favorite inspiration story!) He “paid his respects” to a statue in Richmond, Virginia while they took a walk together. She believes her dog asked her, “How will you pay your respects to Bojangles Robinson?” She did it by naming a character in this novel after this example of Black Excellence (as she did of ALL the characters in this novel).

For her Memorial Day picture book, illustrated by Floyd Cooper (his last book to illustrate before he died), it was also a photograph but not one she took. It was taken in the 1800s of black children gathered at a memorial service. With Floyd’s character, Eli, she told this story she researched of the first Memorial Day in Charleston, SC.

She shared with this audience, made up of 250 sixth and seventh graders, that ALL creative inspiration comes from words, pictures, names, places, people, moments. Then she said the one thing to remember from her talk today is this:


This is erfect advice to hear as we all get ready to begin our summer vacation!
Thank you, Leah Henderson! #AuthorAreRockStars

NOTE: READ and enjoy ALL books by Leah Henderson. Schedule her to visit YOUR school.
She has such a lovely command of a school audience, amazing writing advice to share
and a powerful message for teachers and students!

How do I interview an author?

When asked, I immediately replied, “Yes!”
But now it is Monday and the interview is Thursday at 4pm.
Now they are asking to preview my questions
But they are only swimming in my mind.

As soon as the school day ends,
I leave and find a quiet spot
Piled next to me are all his books
alongside my notebook where I’ve made some jots.

Krista TIppett, from On Being
always starts asking a childhood question
I can do that, too.
Sonja Cherry-Paul, from The Black Creators series
always ends with this question:
What does it mean to you to be a Black Creator?
I want to ask that, too.

I also have a few questions
from my students
while we did a deep-dive
of all Jerry Craft’s books,
We called it our “Jerry Craft Craft Study”!

My pen quickly filled my notebook page.
Then I typed it all into ten questions,
made a pdf and attached it and pressed send
so the email reaches the conference planners.

With a combinaton of excitement and nervousness
I put a load of laundry into the washer
and planned out what I’ll wear on Thursday.
I get to interview author, Jerry Craft!!