Monday, January 27, 2014

Old Life to New Life

On Friday I had the happiest possible day of my old life.

On Saturday I had the happiest possible day of my new life.

Both were given to me as gifts from dear friends, one old and one new.

Friday was the day of the University of Colorado Philosophy Department symposium, "Children's Literature and Philosophical Wondering," organized in my honor by my extravagantly kind colleague Mitzi Lee. The two featured speakers - adored former graduate student Sara Goering, who is now a tenured professor of philosophy at the University of Washington, and Jana Mohr Lone, a passionate pioneer in the philosophy-for-children movement - each gave talks on the magic they work in classrooms around the country, getting children to develop their philosophical selves by engaging them with provocative texts of children's literature. The room was packed with my colleagues and friends. Both talks were terrific. At the end Sara and Jana gave a demonstration of philosophy for children, using the adults in the audience as the subjects. We asked if we were supposed to pretend to be children. No, Sara and Jana said. We just had to be "our own wondering selves."

The text they used for the demonstration was a selection from my own middle-grade novel Standing Up to Mr. O, about a seventh grader who refuses to dissect animals in her biology class, which made this afternoon of tribute even more sweet. After reading a page or two from my book aloud, Jana placed us in small groups to come up with our own philosophical questions about the text. I couldn't believe how many questions poured out of everyone, questions I hadn't even realized the text might pose.We then voted on which question to pursue, generating a wonderful discussion about whether it's bad in itself for someone to take pleasure in doing a wrong thing, or just bad because of bad results that might ensue from that character trait.

I left feeling so glad and grateful that I had spent the last twenty years of my life in my career as a professor of philosophy in this place with these people.

Then I spent Saturday at a writing retreat organized by my new writer friend, Jeannie Mobley, who beat me out for the Colorado Book Award last year with her beautiful book Katerina's Wish. Jeannie decided to invite a few writer friends over to her house in Longmont for the weekend to do nothing but write, write, write, talk about writing, eat wonderful food to replenish our writing energies, and to write some more. What a wonderful gift she gave the six of us who came! I came away from the retreat with THREE new chapters written of the second book in my Nora Notebooks series, an entire three-hundred-page book read (Wonder, by R. J. Palacio), and half a dozen new writer friends.

I left feeling so glad and grateful that I'm going to spend the next stage of my life as a full-time children's book writer.

Thank you, Mitzi. Thank you, Jeannie. Thanks to both of you for letting me know that I love where I've been, and I love where I'm going.

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