One of the best things that has happened to me as the author of a series of children’s books is that almost exactly a year ago today I had the opportunity to visit a grade school in Kansas City, MO. I was invited to give a series of presentations by Mr. Bob Dever, the PE teacher and a fly fisherman who had come to find out about my books the year before. Actually it was I who first contacted Bob after reading about a program he was teaching with grant money received as part of the Physh Ed program offered by The Future Fisherman Foundation. With this funding he had taught basic elements of spin and fly fishing as an after school activity at Gracemor Elementary. Kids who participated in the program also learned basic fly tying, and I thought my books might be something Bob would be interested in. Luckily I was right, and after sharing regular email correspondence over the months, we worked out an arrangement to have me come to his school. Airline reservations were booked and Mrs. Unaccomplished Angler began prepping me for the trip: Buying me new clothes and reminding me of proper social etiquette. For some strange reason she seemed to have little confidence in my abilities, and reminded me to say “please” and “thank you”, and not to run in the halls.
In advance of my visit, the kids had read the stories of Olive the Woolly Bugger, and some of the younger students had even “tied” their own versions of the woolly bugger using clothes pins and feathers. The weekend prior to my arrival marked the school’s trip to Bennett Spring State Park, which gave these budding young anglers an opportunity to put their recent training to use. With all this fishing-related excitement still fresh in their minds, it’s safe to say that these kids were eager for my visit, and their enthusiasm was surpassed only by my own. I’d never done anything like this, so getting on a plane and flying halfway across the country, masquerading as some sort of hot-shot author was a big deal to me. Admittedly I was also a bit nervous, and as I sat on the plane sandwiched between two red-headed, cornfed brothers returning home to Wichita, I worried about the normal things anyone in my position would worry about: Would my PowerPoint work? What if I woke up in the morning with a case of laryngitis? What if the kids are mean to me? I wonder what’s on the school lunch menu? Maybe pigs in a blanket–those were my favorite when I was in elementary school. And chocolate milk.
I was relieved when my plane touched down safely, and I was greeted at the security gate by Bob. I would be staying with he and his wife at their home, so I didn’t have to deal with English-challenged cab drivers, bad directions, or non-smoking hotel rooms that weren’t quite what they were advertised to be. It was a nice relief to know that all I had to do was be ready to leave for school at 7 o-clock the next morning, and after a decent night’s sleep I managed to do just that. And so began my big day.
During the course of the day I talked to over 700 students (Kindergarten through 5th grade) about being an author and illustrator. Most of my young audience seemed more interested in the drawing aspect of my endeavors, which seems appropriate since writing is something kids are forced to do, while coloring is fun. I shared information about the adventures to be had while fly-fishing, being careful to point out that there’s more to fishing than catching fish (which was met with blank stares). I showed slides of beautiful mountain lakes and streams, broad rivers lined with magnificent fall colors, and a wide array of wildlife. These were inner-city kids and most, if any, had never seen anything like the images in my presentation. Kids that age rarely appreciate scenic photographs, no matter how stunning, and while they enjoyed seeing photos of deer, moose, beavers and bears, their eyes really lit up when I started showing slides of fish: Big and small, salmonids and rough fish, warmwater species and Arctic char. Hands shot up in the air and I was peppered with questions about the many different fish:
“Did you catch that huge fish?” Uh, no.
“How much did that fish weigh?” Don’t know. I didn’t catch that one, either.
“Do you catch lots of fish?” Next question…
But my favorite question was asked by a cute little girl who was about 7 or 8 years old: “How long have you been famous?” I smiled, looked at my watch, and replied, “About ten minutes.”
Their curiosity and enthusiasm was infectious (as were the germs they sent me home with which resulted in the worst sinus infection I’ve ever had). Most every one of the kids seemed genuinely interested in what I had to say, and except for when the lunch bell rang I had a captive audience (and they truly were captive, because they couldn’t go anywhere). To these kids, I was something special: A real live author and seemingly accomplished fisherman that lived in a far-away place called Washington (no, not where the President lives), where there were high mountains and lots of evergreen trees and water and fish called salmon and steelhead that swim from the rivers to the ocean and back again. Luckily for me my visit was brief. Had I spent much more time with these kids they’d have figured out that I’m just a regular guy who just happens to have written a couple books about a woolly bugger named Olive. And I don’t catch many fish.