This weekend is the Arkansas Literary Festival, and I’m busy and having a blast.
The day started at the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion, where First Lady Ginger Beebe hosted Literacy on the Lawn for the sixth year in a row. Mrs. Beebe extends invitations to schools in the state to bring classes to the Mansion for Arkansas authors to read to them. After a Mansion session, they go to the Clinton Presidential Library across town; this year, they met with the amazing Kadir Nelson for a session about his books. That’s the bare facts. Here’s the behind the scenes story.
The Arkansas Literacy Festival Started for Me with the Literacy on the Lawn at the Governor’s Mansion
When I arrived at the Governor’s Mansion, I was met by Mrs. Beebe. Because of laws limiting a governor’s term to eight years, this is the last year for Mrs. Beebe to host the Literacy on the Lawn and there was a touch of sadness, and perhaps, she was more relaxed this year, too. Wearing a bright pink dress and white blouse, she chatted about past years. After a cup of coffee, she directed me to my station. I was to expect two classes of third-graders about 30 minutes apart.
Meeting Erica TaylorBefore the kids arrived, I chatted with another presenter, Erica Taylor, Arkansas author of Figler: My Imaginary Friend. Erica was cheerful and we chatted about books and life. She played college basketball for Louisiana Tech University and was drafted for the WNBA by the Washington Mystics (she’s the tall one in the photo!). She told about trying out for the Olympic team at the age of 16 and not making it; however, at the trials, she met her future husband, Jermain Taylor, who became in 2005, the Undisputed Middleweight Boxing Champion. Mother of three, Erica now writes and is a dance mom, shepherding her daughter through many dance competitions.
Reading to Kids: I Always Learn Something New from my Readers
The sessions with kids went well. Students from Lynch Drive Elementary School in the North Little Rock School District were attentive and asked great questions about Laysan albatrosses and Brazilian pumas. For me, the most interesting thing was that third graders didn’t seem to understand how the world of nature is interconnected, in other words, what an ecosystem truly is. We talked about why we might want to save the orphaned puma and many were surprised that scientists wanted to return it to the wild, where it might potentially harm someone.
In Brazil, I explained that ticks carry Brazilian spotted fever, a lethal disease similar to Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and which is on the increase nationwide. The host for the ticks are capybaras, the largest rodent in the world. The predator for capybaras is the puma (also known as cougar, Florida panther, mountain lion, etc.). By encouraging puma populations, you defeat the Brazilian spotted fever. These connections were difficult for the kids to understand. Perhaps this means I need to write a book explaining ecosystems?
Learning to Revise a Sex SceneI had a two hour break and had planned to actually attend a session at the Literary Festival. I chose Catherine Coulter’s “Kill ’em Clean” session because she was talking about writing and I thought it could be interesting. In honor of this decision, I am listening to the Audible version of The Final Cut (A Brit in the FBI), which is co-written with J.T. Ellison. At 71 years old, Catherine was a knockout, wearing high heels and wearing an ankle bracelet. Her session was a knock-out, too, because it’s the first time I’ve ever had a teacher read an awful love scene and then talk the participants through a revision of the love scene. Yes, I learned how to revise a sex scene. But I have no clue when I will use this new-found skill!
Of course, Catherine covered much more in her session (Read the classic Strunk and White for a quick overview of what Catherine covered), but she will forever stand out in my mind because she’s the first writing teacher I’ve had who tackled–in public–revising a sex scene.
Luncheon at the Governor’s Mansion
I returned to the Governor’s Mansion where the festivities had died down and kids were boarding buses to return to their schools. Traditionally, Mrs. Beebe hosts a thank-you luncheon for the docents who gave tours of the Mansion to the students, and to the authors who read to the students. Kadir Nelson joined us from the Clinton Presidential Libary.
We dined on Cobb Salad.
Dessert included an Arkansas-shaped sugar cookie and mixed berries.
A Note: Why, you might ask has this post included so many pictures, especially photos of food? This week, I read a fascinating post from the Buffer App folks that summarized scientific studies of what works on Pinterest and what doesn’t. The most repinned photos were of food, especially when combined with a recipe, and of certain colors (No blues!). No recipes here, just great pics of a beautifully laid table, interesting decorations and tasty food. Notice that I snuck in some photos of my newest picture book, Abayomi, the Brazilian Puma, while I was at it. Look at the my Pinterest board on the Arkansas Literary Festival; I’ll add to it tonight after the Author! Author! cocktail party and tomorrow, after my sessions.
During the luncheon, Mrs. Beebe told us a story of bees. It seems that the Mansion’s pergola has been invaded by a swarm of bees, which have been there a couple years. But this spring, over a two week period three swarms of bees left the pergola to take off and find a new home. That means the bee colony was very healthy with three queen bees emerging rapidly and taking off with each swarm. They decided it was time to get the bees out of the pergola, partly because it was damaging the structure, and partly because the Mansion committee had recently installed two hives of bees on the other side of the grounds.
Animated, Mrs. Beebe told us, “The bees in the hive are Italian banded bees, but the ones in the pergola are mutt bees. Mike (the AR-governor) asked, ‘Do we have to import bees from Italy?'”
The pergola was slowly being dismantled because as each board was removed, it revealed massive honeycombs which had to be cut out and taken to the Mansion kitchen for processing. “They haven’t even found the bee colony yet,” Mrs. Beebe said.
And here we thought that the First Lady only knew about Republicans and Democrats.
And the somber-faced Kadir Nelson actually smiled and laughed at Mrs. Beebe’s stories!
Instead, she painted a lively scene of grandchildren playing king and queen from the balconies, bee colonies providing entertainment, and a certain sadness as her time at the mansion comes to a close. Mrs. Beebe, we appreciate all you’ve done for literacy in the state. Thank you for hosting authors and kids and books and connecting them in such a gracious and welcoming manner.
The Festival is far from done! There’s the cocktail party tonight, where I’ll take more food pictures for the sake of Pinterest. And, three sessions tomorrow. I’ll post!