Thursday, February 4, 2010

Live chat with Gennifer Choldenko!

This winter Vista students participated in the first annual One Book Vista! Inspired by Seattle librarian Nancy Pearl's "If All of Seattle Read the Same Book" project which has since spread throughout the country, middle school head Tim Costello proposed our own smaller scale version.

Vista students, staff and many parents read Gennifer Choldenko's highly acclaimed novel If a Tree Falls at Lunch Period. This story of two middle school students grappling with issues of identity, belonging and family secrets resonates on many levels with students of this age.

What made One Book Vista most exciting, however, was yesterday's live chat with Gennifer from her home in the Bay Area! The Newbery Honor-winning author kindly took time out of her busy schedule to spend 45 minutes chatting via speakerphone with Vista students. She graciously answered their questions on a wide variety of topics, some of which students prepared in advance, and some that occurred to them during the discussion.

Here are a few of the highlights from our chat:

Many students wondered about the inspiration for the story and how Gennifer, as an adult, was able to know so much about what goes on in middle schools today. Apart from being the mother of two kids who are around this age, she got permission to observe at a local middle school and took note of the social dynamics. Gennifer also drew on her own personal background and memories. For example, going from being a white student at a predominantly white school who did not think much about race, to being one of the few white students at a mostly black school, gave her many insights which are apparent in the novel.

Vista students also were curious about Gennifer's favorite books (too many to list, but The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate and House of the Scorpion are among them), possible career choices if she were not an author (librarianship!), favorite genre to write (historical fiction) and favorite subjects when she was their age (history and algebra).

Students were amazed to discover that the research for Al Capone Does My Shirts, which many of them had read, took five years! In addition to this model of perseverance, Gennifer offered Vista students valuable advice about following your passions despite fear of rejection or failure. Through persisting in doing something she loves, she has succeeded beyond her wildest dreams.

Look for Gennifer's next book, a work of magic realism, coming out next January!

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