Guest post by author Maureen McQuerry
Chicago area, in bleak mid-winter, by choice? In December I visited Jefferson Junior High in Naperville, and it was one of the highlights of my year. As a young adult author, school visits are one part of my job that I love. They’re fun for me because I get to interact with the people who read my books, and because I taught for twenty years, but mostly because I believe school visits can change lives.
I know that’s an audacious statement, so let me explain. When I was teaching, I created an elective class called passion projects that paired students with mentors in a field both the student and mentor were passionate about. Unexpectedly it became a turning point in many students’ lives. Why? Because spending time with an adult who is passionate about her work in any field, about ideas and about the imagination is powerful. Passion is contagious. Our imaginations, our passions are tinder waiting to be ignited.
I didn’t grow up in a highly educated family. I never met an author, a poet or a scientist. I don’t recall any adults who were passionate about what they did for a living. I discovered years later as a teacher that the engagement of my students was directly proportionate to my passion for the subject.
You see a school visit isn’t just about selling books or hearing how an author works. It’s bigger than that. It’s about, to quote author friend Karen Halverson Shrek, “possibilities cracking open.” It’s discussing where ideas come from, how our imaginations work, and hearing that perseverance pays off. When I leave, students may not say I will be a writer, but I hope they will say, I can do something that matters, even if the journey to get there is long and the work is hard; my dreams are important.
Where do ideas come from in any field? Author Neil Gaiman says: “And, most of all, ideas come from confluence — they come from two things flowing together. They come, essentially, from daydreaming. . . . And I suspect that’s something every human being does. ..” This concept of confluence , about ideas running into each other in unexpected ways is worth talking about. Author visits allow students to become part of the creative process. They catch a glimpse of the story behind the story. The visits create an intimacy between writer and reader.
The purpose of art is to provoke thought, to make us see the world in a new way, to make unexpected connections. Why was the visit to Jefferson so special? Before I even arrived, teachers were inviting students to think deeper, envision the stories through other medium, prepare questions, and engage their imaginations in ways that brought my books to life. The students picked up on their teachers’ passion… and it was magic.
About Maureen McQuerry
Maureen divides her time between writing, teaching and presenting. Her YA novel, The Peculiars (Abrams/Amulet 2012) is an ALA Best Book for Young Adult Readers 2013, Bank Street and Horne Book recommended book, and a winner of the Westchester Award. Beyond the Door (Abrams/Amulet) the first in the Time Out of Time duet, is a Booklist top Ten Fantasy/SciFi for Youth. The adventure continues in this spring in the The Telling Stone (Amulet, May 15, 2015). Maureen has taught writing to children and adults, loves giving author talks in schools and at conferences. When she’s not writing or reading, she’s hiking, biking or traveling and always hoping for a real life mystery or adventure.