As everyone left for lunch, I found myself sitting alone in an area reflecting on what I had heard. I knew for those brief hours, I had been part of something big that was going to grow. I also knew someone I had loved for years needed me more. I quietly gathered my things and left without saying a word. I wish I would have said good-by to some cherished and new friends but the urgency to get home was strong. The welcome I received upon my arrival in Charlevoix told me I had made the right decision. I never left Xena again for the next two years and four months.
When talk of nErDcampMI 2016 began circulating on social media, I wanted to be there. It was time to connect with people who I only knew virtually but felt like lifelong friends. We had conversed on the telephone, through email, messages on Twitter and Facebook and in scores of posts. These people held (hold) the same passion for children and students, books, reading, writing and children's literature I do.
This adventure, nErDcampMI 2016, began Sunday July 10th in the morning and finished Wednesday morning July 13th. The entire event came full circle at the Detroit Metropolitan Airport. Nothing will ever duplicate the series of firsts I experienced over these days.
- To meet author Victoria J. Coe in person was astonishing; this woman who has talked, written and supported me for more than a year, this woman who knows and understands the hearts of dog lovers and this woman who knows dogs, oh so well, is full of energy until she is not. (I swear she is part canine.) Her love of writing and her books lights up a room whenever she enters. To have been her roommate is beyond wonderful.
- To meet educator Melissa Guerrette, to chat with her to and from the airport, on our rides to nErDcamp and other events was a gift. You should ask her about her summer program.
- To share conversations, meals and company with the Boston bunch and those other wicked New Englanders and a delightful Canadian, Jason Lewis, Lesley Burnap, Josh Funk, Erika Victor, Melanie Colangelo Roy and Debbie Ohi Ridpath was soul-lifting. I'll never look at a Big Boy the same way again.
- By late afternoon on Sunday the group more than doubled as others arrived to share another meal and children's literature chats; to see and meet all these people in person is beyond description. I soaked it up like a proverbial sponge.
- On Monday morning looking around the gymnasium as the numbers continued to grow, filling the bleachers, floor and balcony, I could feel my heart swelling at the thought of all these committed people coming together. Every single person on the stage, tiny Heidi thanking all of us for the gift of books, Kathy Burnette, Teri Lesesne, Pernille Ripp, Raina Telgemeier and Donalyn Miller told truly poignant stories. That they shared them for the good of the cause is the most touching thing of all. When Kate DiCamillo walked in, the room exploded in applause. I will remember her story because of the rock with the thumbprint hole and the green and white checked towel; her attention to details, the sense of realism, goes straight to your heart.
- Betsy Bird, Travis Jonker and Minh Le challenged us all to look at the impact of social media and blogging. I loved knowing about their favorite books.
- Nora Raleigh Baskin and Gae Polisner took us back to 9/11 recreating their writing process; a journey in research and emotional connections. I deeply value conversations had with both of them outside this presentation.
- I had never heard my friend John Schumacher speak but let me tell you; don't ever miss a chance to hear this man talk about books, reading or libraries. He is witty, wise and completely passionate about children's literature. Everyone left the room energized. The chats with Kate Beasley and Kate DiCamillo at the end were an unexpected memorable bonus.
- Sometime during the day, Deborah Freedman and I approached each other and met for the first time. We have conversed online and over the phone but never before in person. I know I have hugged every single one of her books after I have read them. I am sincerely thankful to have had this opportunity.
- I think Jess Keating and I might have yelled when we saw each other for the first time and hugged each other in appreciation.
- In the late afternoon and evening the cafeteria filled with authors and illustrators and people seeking to get books signed and even briefly exchange sentences with them. I tried to thank all of them for their contribution to children's lives through their books. The room was super-charged. I am grateful to Nora Raleigh Baskin, Gae Polisner, Greg Pizzoli, Aaron Zenz, John Davidson Anderson, Kate Hannigan, Melanie Conklin, Josh Funk, and Jen Bishop for signing books for me and taking the time to talk.
- I want to thank one very special new young author not only for his book, but for a story he shared with me. I asked him about a bracelet he was wearing made of colored beads. It's really a necklace made by his young son which he wraps around his wrist. His son made two, one for him and one for himself. It's to remind Minh Le when they are apart of the love connection they share. When they chat face to face online they wave their fingers to recharge the power held in those bracelets. Oh my goodness... ♥♥♥
- And the day was not over yet as hundreds filled a hall for the Nerdy Dinner...
- On Tuesday I lead a morning session, Be The Pebble School Libraries Sharing Best Practices. It was a pleasure to see the faces of friends I had met previously and those I only knew online. Thank you to each one of you who contributed in the conversations and to those of you who came up to talk with me after the session. If anyone would like more specifics about anything feel free to send me a message on Twitter.
- Sharing lunch with friends John Schumacher and Lauren Castillo (nearly in tears when I first saw her Sunday night) was one of those pinch-me moments. Their dedication to their work, to everything they believe in, is genuine. I have a feeling the best is yet to come.
- In the afternoon I had the distinct privilege to read a Nerdy Book Club post with Victoria J. Coe and then one of my own for possible broadcast on the new Nerdy Book Club podcast. It's an experience I won't forget. I am sending thanks to the patient and knowledgeable Kevin Carlson. (For the life of me, pronouncing typography gave new meaning to tongue-tied.)
- You can't leave the session lead by Tony Keefer on March Madness without being fired-up for this event.
- Just when you think it couldn't get any better, it did. Hundreds of students came to nErDcamp Jr. (700?). Authors/illustrators and volunteers talked, laughed and worked from 5:30-8PM. I had the honor of working in the room with writer Deborah Hopkinson. I have admired her books, especially her picture books for years. After her presentation, I know I need to go read some of her middle grade books. She makes you hungry for history. Her writing exercise was profound and moving.
- When the big thunderstorm hit everyone kept on talking and listening and participating but I did hear that the students in Victoria J. Coe's presentation on POV started barking like dogs when the thunder came.
- And how often do you leave nErDcamp MI with a rainbow hanging in front of the school. It was a superb closing to a superb event.
- I won't forget those small conversations had with people I have not named, I see your faces and I remember. I am grateful for those moments with each of you.
- Most of all I can't express enough my supreme gratitude to a couple who had a dream and made it come true, Alaina and Colby Sharp. You and your team have made a difference in thousands of lives. I love you both.