Wednesday, August 17, 2016

What did you do over the summer?

Between June and today I did over 60 gigs which took me through most of New Hampshire, and into Vermont, Maine, Massachusetts, and New York. It's been busy, exhausting, and great fun. I met some wonderful people, adults as well as kids, reacquainted with some of my die-hard fans and hopefully made a few new ones! There were some folks I did not see this summer and I hope to see them later in the year.
Some of my work this year, as with most years, was for CLiF - the Children's Literacy Foundation. An amazing organization built on heart and the very strong desire to improve literacy in New Hampshire and Vermont. The team they have is strong, and the people up in Waterbury, Vermont (their world headquarters) all have a love of what they are doing, and for the kids and communities they serve. I am merely the delivery boy of books. Lots and lots of lovely, new books.
I wanted to share what I and a number of other presenters do in a day for CLiF.
The process is not easy for CLiF as the programs over the summer are many, and trying to have the presenters schedule and location schedule work together can be tough. All of the presenters do their own work, and for some, like me, summer is one of the busier times. But the kids need their books, so we make it work. After the emails and phone calls trying to get the scheduling sorted out, I get a list of where I am going and when, and closer to the day I get the notification of who the contact people are, names, numbers, address, number of kids, ages etc.
Sometimes the boxes are shipped straight to the venue, other times they are shipped, or delivered by CLiF folks directly to me. These boxes are labeled as to where they will end up: this school or that community program, or this summer camp.

The evening before or the morning of (depending on whether the leaving time is 6 am or 10 am) I load the car with the boxes of books. In this particular load (two large venues), in the trunk I have 8 boxes of books, my backdrop stand, speaker stand, and cables.

In the back of the car, I have another  three boxes, plus my box with my water, drum throne, and odds and ends, the speaker is in the foot well, my backdrop, my CLiF banner, my microphone, drum, and spare clothes in case I need to put on a fresh outfit when hotter than hot! Some of these things are put in the car right before I leave so they do not get damaged due to security and the temperature of the car overnight. My drum does not do well overnight in a car, and lunch is better when freshly made and packed! I have to say I do love the mileage I get with my 2014 Toyota Corolla, even when fully loaded up. It's not a hybrid, just a regular old basic Corolla!

42.5 miles per gallon

I try to get to the venue about an hour in advance n case there are issues with the venue, to set up the books, and my sound system (some of the multi-purpose rooms I work in have awful acoustics). Once at the venue, which can take anywhere from 40 minutes to 2 1/2 hours to get there, the car is unloaded, the boxes are emptied onto tables, and a visual presentation is created where we create a candy store of books! The books are in no real order other than reading level, to some degree, and not by author, so not like a book shop!

CLiF banners are put up, a final check and then the young people come in. I tell stories for about 30-40 minutes, depending on the kids or what else is going on, and then they get to pick (for the summer reading program CLiF does) two brand new books each. This sometimes takes quite a while, and again depends on the kids. Usually I can pick up whether the children will need a longer or shorter time to pick out books, which is what I judge when it comes to stories, and length of storytelling. When I head to a CLiF presentation I have a very rough idea of what I might tell, but sometimes the age group, the restlessness of the kids, or at the end of a hot day, the attention of the kids will have me change from the rough plan to something different. After the stories the kids get to look at the books and pick out two they want. Some kids have not picked out books for themselves before, so either myself or staff members at the venue who know the children, help them find something they want and will read. After this is done, all the left over books are packed up and I take them home with me to get back to CLiF at a later date.
The thing about these book deliveries over the summer is that they go to many places where poverty is high, where the majority of the school population is on free lunch and that lunch may be the ONLY meal the students get that day. At many, not all, but many of the places I go to there are teachers and others volunteering to make sure the kids get fed over the longest vacation of the year, and with the help of CLiF, the kids get food for their brains too!
68% of fourth graders in the USA read below a proficient level. 43% of adults with the lowest level of literacy live in poverty which means CLiF is helping break that cycle in NH and VT by bringing kids new books which they Pick Out Themselves (sometimes with a nudge and helping hand in the right direction when needed). There are communities I go to year in and year out, and still I hear the words: "This is my first book I get to keep." Heart breaking and heart warming all at the same time.

The books are chosen on recommendation and vetted by Jana Brown at CLiF. And of course the kids review the books themselves in what they pick and what comes back with me. The range of literature is wide. The choice wildly varied. From The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, to Captain Underpants. There are National Geographic books for early readers, and Curious George, to Judy B Jones and Emilia Bedilia, Eoin Colfer's Artimus Fowl books, Paul Fleisman books, a handful of graphic novels, Rahl Dahl and Rick Riodan books and piles of great picture books, some classics, and many modern classics including Vampirina Ballerina by Anne Marie Pace!

There are over 58 presenters who work with CLiF including my friends and colleagues illustrator and writer Marty Kelley, writers Erin E Moulton, Eric Pinder and Dean Whitlock, and cartoon artist Marek Bennett. CLiF also has such luminaries as Michael Caduto, Jim Arnosky, Natalie Kinsey-Warnick, Katherine Patterson, poet Leland Kinsey, and Doug Wilhelm to name a small handful. This year CLiF has given over 6,250 kids the chance to pick out two brand new books of their own choice. This is close to $135,000 worth of books! I am just a small cog in a wonder wheel called CLiF which takes me through New Hampshire and Vermont meeting some of the best kids, volunteers, counselors, and teachers in those states.
If you want to donate money or new books to CLiF, volunteer, or help on the board, their website is: They would be happy to hear from you.
Here's to books and reading and being able to be whoever and whatever you want to be!

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