Yesterday was a day for crossing all kinds of borders. The conference I attended at the John F. Kennedy Library could not have been named more perfectly. “Crossing Borders Through Literature, Poetry & Personal Stories” was the official conference title, but I couldn’t help but think how well it described my day – personally and professionally.
The conference itself was wonderful. And, yes, I was able to meet Naomi Shihab Nye. I had lunch with her. She wrote lovely notes in my books. It was like a dream - I felt like the clock would strike midnight (or noon - since we were eating lunch) and I would be at home missing a fuzzy slipper. And, just as I expected, she was warm and gracious and reassuring, if that makes any sense. The speakers were perfectly chosen for the conference theme: James Rumford, Alma Flor Ada, Linda Sue Park, and Naomi Shihab Nye. Through their writing and teaching, each of these authors transport young people beyond their own borders. As Naomi said during the day’s first session: “Reading gives us the sense of being in places we’ve never been before, experiences we haven’t had.”
Linda Sue Park, the Newbery-winning author of A Single Shard, was funny and thought-provoking and she made baseball references – although she’s a Cubs fan. One of the issues she spoke passionately about was the importance of writing what interests her. The spark for A Single Shard was Park’s own interest in celadon pottery – not because she thought that the world was somehow missing a book for young people about Korean pottery. I’ve always been a big fan of James Rumford’s work, but now I plan to check our library shelves to be sure he is well represented. He is one of those “Renaissance Men” who, according to Park, speaks “about 38 languages” seems to be interested in everything. He has written about, among other things, calligraphy in Afghanistan, children in Chad who build their own school each year and Ibn Battuta, the Moroccan traveller.
Yesterday also included some personal boundary crossing. The conference took place at the Kennedy Library, a place where I worked for 15 years. Although many of my colleagues have, like me, moved on to other adventures, others are there and being with them yesterday was as memorable and moving as the program. At one point, I was in the conference room talking with people associated with my “new” life. And, then, I crossed a few steps and many years when I sat in an office laughing with a friend about something that happened years ago. It was the collision of those two lives on one day that caused waves of emotion. As one of my friends said yesterday, “this is where we were young together.” When I think about it, it’s reading that caused my own “border crossing.” It was knowing that I wanted to learn more and read more that caused me to leave one place I loved and find a home in a new place I love. I only hope that by teaching literature, I’m helping young people to explore their own interests and maybe cross a few borders of their own.