Thursday, May 17, 2007

An Afternoon with Nancy Ruth Patterson

In Virginia, our big Standards of Learning Tests are getting ready to be given. In teacherspeak that means stress, test booklets, signing your life away, and lots of little bubbles on answer sheets. Adding one more thing to an already hectic schedule this time of year is always difficult, but our local Roanoke Valley Reading Council always hosts a Spring Literacy Tea during the middle of May. Every year I wonder how I will fit it into my schedule, and every year, I’m so glad I did. This year was no exception. I spent a wonderful afternoon with other tired teachers who perked up with a little food and water provided by Roanoke College’s fabulous culinary team.

This year’s speaker was local author, Nancy Ruth Patterson. While most of us have heard her speak at various events around the area, Ms. Patterson gave us all new inspiration, which we desperately needed. A former teacher herself, Patterson knows what it’s like to wear our shoes.

She talked about how her editor was gentle with her in the beginning when she was a writer-in-progress. She tells how her editor mailed her a bunch of new books so she could see what was being published in children’s literature these days. Ms. Patterson read them quickly, and was thrilled to tell her editor that she had read them all. Her editor asked if she had read them as closely as she would want one of her readers to read her own books. She confessed she had not. She told her she must treat books like good friends, going back to them often.

I loved this! It was something I always tell my students (only in different words)—a good book is worth reading over and over again. When we read Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo, inevitably several students have read the book, and many more have seen the movie. I always say, “Great! You’ll love it even more the second (or third) time around.” I am firm believer in reading those faves over and over again.

Ms. Patterson also talked about all of her books and how the inspiration for each of them came from personal experiences. The Christmas Cup, a beloved Christmas story, is largely autobiographical.

The Shiniest Rock of All was inspired by a student who shared one of his own stories in her writing class about his fear of the first day of school. He was afraid to say his name—Robert—because he couldn’t pronounce his r’s.

When the local theater, Mill Mountain Theater, was conducting tryouts for The Christmas Cup, one child begged her NOT to cast her in a role unless she cast her sister too. This was the inspiration for A Simple Gift.

Her most recent book, The Winner’s Walk, started sprouted in her head when she heard a kid talking while she was swimming. He felt like he wasn’t very good at anything. His mom pointed to a poster in the pool area that said “You don’t have to be the best, you just have to try your best.” He said, “That’s what they say to losers.” A new story was born.

Beyond the fact that it was a lovely afternoon with an inspiring author, I felt like it was a push to keep writing. I have so many stories to tell, and I wonder if they will ever see the light of print. Nancy Ruth Patterson never dreamed her personal story, The Christmas Cup, would ever be published, let alone be made into a play, and become a Christmas traditional for many. Perhaps one of my very own stories, on the files of this very computer, will one day make it out into the world. We’ll see…

No comments: