Last Saturday I signed books at Books-A-Million in McLean, Virginia. It was especially encouraging to see young people gathering books. They stopped to read the cover of To Come and Go Like Magic. They liked the butterflies (thanks to the talented artist Jen Lobo). They asked questions: What’s the book about? What do the butterflies mean? How old is the narrator?
A few of the girls were the same age (12) as Chili, the narrator of the book. Whereas Chili grew up in a small town with dreams of seeing the world, many of these kids have grown up in the city and are used to traveling. Their dreams are different, but they know what it means to dream.
One bubbly twelve-year-old told me she had “grown up” in Germany, except for the past two years spent in the US. She goes to the German School in Washington, DC where the subjects are taught in German. Still, her accent was barely detectable. (I dare say my own accent is much worse!) She reads books in both German and English. I told her about the narrator of my book growing up in a small town in Kentucky much like the town where I grew up, and we talked about the towns in Germany. She was not familiar with the towns of my childhood, but I was familiar with hers. Rothenburg, Dinkelsbuhl, Wiesbaden, Munich…
…I remembered the fruit and vegetable market in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, the well-preserved medieval old town that inspired the 1940 Disney movie Pinocchio, as well as the village scenes in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and, much later, the fictional town of Lebensbaum (Life Tree) in the video game Shadow of Destiny…the old walled city of Dinkelsbuhl where storks still roost in the town towers…the little garden cafes with the best sausages in the world.
I told her how the women in the German countryside reminded me of my mom and my aunts, how my grandparents on that side of the family were German, and how they liked to cook sauerkraut and wieners. Of course, it’s not wieners in Germany but rather, in the Bavarian region especially, Nuremburg sausages. Every now and then we get a craving for the real deal and head off to the local German store for sausages and a big container of that wonderful potato salad that has no equal. Her eyes lit up when I told her my son had traveled through Germany last summer and it was one of his favorite places. Her grandparents are still there, she said, and her own family will be going “back home” in another year. DC is a very transient city and almost everyone I meet enjoys talking about home — wherever that may be.
Although To Come and Go Like Magic is for 10-up, I met an eight-year-old who had no trouble reading it. I’ll bet she understands most of it, too. I’m always amazed by the intelligence, sophistication, and talent of the kids I meet. I was excited when a young boy came over to check out my book. Great! He seemed excited, too, as he read the blurb on the cover. Ahhh…he’d found the perfect book, he said — for his cousin’s (a girl) birthday…
I also met and sold a book to an older gentleman from Mexico. He was collecting books for a project he’s doing related to the history of Scotland and Ireland. He overheard me talking about the heritage of the people in Appalachia, especially the hills of Eastern Kentucky, being mostly Scots-Irish and German, and he stopped to have a peek at my book. We talked about the children of that region still singing songs and playing games in the 1970s that had been sung and played in Scotland 200 years earlier. We talked about Mexico, too. I told him about the places I love in that country and he told me about the places he’d lived. In the course of the conversation we discovered that we had worked for the same international organization at the same time in the 1980s and that I had actually written about some of his projects. There were 5,000 employees; we’d never met.
So…the book signing was successful on many levels. I’m a quasi-hermit a good part of the time, attached to the computer or the laptop, watching the birds out my window or from my “outdoor” office, so it’s fun to talk to others about the book — what’s in it and what’s not — and to compare notes about life in general. I always find that some of the best conversations can be had with people at opposite ends of the spectrum — youngsters and oldsters, good friends and perfect strangers.