Thursday and Friday have been busy days on the tour. They also involved some serious freeway driving which I am pleased to say has become a lot easier since Tuesday! We managed to negotiate our way to Petaluma yesterday without one wrong turn– something of a miracle too as we had left the wireless dongle thingamajig back at the hotel. We realised this about halfway across the Golden Gate Bridge. But Ian had entered all the details into the iPad and so I felt confident that we would be ok. Ian had also studied the map for an hour – that’s how confident he was about my navigation skills!
At the first stop, Harvest Christian School, we met a small but very enthusiastic group of third graders. Dressed in the cutest uniforms, the children really reminded me of home. We also met our hosts for the day, the delightful Patty and Grace from Copperfield’s Books in Petaluma. They treated the children to cinnamon rolls as I signed their books.
We met the first, second and third grade in the multipurpose gymnasium. The children were again beautifully behaved and totally focused. Patty and Grace were pleased that I had brought my presentation on a memory stick – apparently lots of authors insist on setting up their own computers but the advice from the bookshop ladies is ‘bring a stick’. The school’s technology expert had everything set up in no time flat. The school provided a great lunch too. J
Our final school of the day was back in town, McDowell Elementary. It’s on a huge block of land – round 10 acres and houses only K-3, with the children then moving to McKinley School for the older grades. This was by far the most multicultural school we had visited so far. In the Kindergarten class there was one native English speaker and 21 NESB. There was a little boy sitting in the front row who I noticed as the rest of the school streamed in. He had the most enormous brown eyes and clearly he was not happy. His tummy was hurting – he’d eaten too much lunch and he looked like he needed a cuddle – which his teacher duly provided.
It was a great visit and I loved talking to the children at the end and signing their books. A small boy wanted to whisper everything else he knew about Australia in my ear. His teacher thanked me profusely for giving him time – he was utterly adorable.
We then visited the central part of Petaluma and Copperfield’s. The bookshop is huge and really well laid out. The town is gorgeous too with lots of antique and vintage shops and a great range of cafes. Patty and Grace told us it was once the egg capital of America. I spent an hour signing books and talking to people who came into the shop.
Then it was back to Laurel Heights in the city to Books Inc where I was due to talk at 6pm. I was a little worried about whether there would be an audience but was absolutely delighted to have an almost full house – mostly girls I had met at Sacred Heart the day before. Summer and Ingrid were as lovely in person as they had been on email.
This morning we headed for San Rafael – a little closer than Petaluma and on the same road. We didn’t even get the map out until the San Rafael city limits! I had been talking to Holly Kuhlman from Glenwood Elementary for months and was so excited to finally meet her. I was thrilled to meet Nicki Richesin too, with whom I had done an interview for The Children’s Book Review site last year and who set up the visit with Holly. Nicki’s daughter Olivia had written a review about Alice-Miranda At School for the website just last week so I was thrilled to meet her as well. She’s a very smart second grader! And yes it is Good Friday and all of the public schools are at school. Only religious schools take the day off.
It was great to spend a whole day in the school, meeting most of the classes and having time to look around as well. We visited the Grade Four classes to see the children’s Wax Museum. They had all researched an important figure in US history, prepared speeches and dressed as them with props too. We saw some great presentations from Lance Armstrong, Rose Kennedy and Shirley Temple.
We had lunch with the staff – they had some fantastic local recommendations for places to visit in Monterey and Carmel over the weekend. I enjoyed chatting to the principal about the state of the public school system in California. They are really challenged with funding cut backs and have even reduced the length of the school year so they don’t have to pay the teachers as much – they are generally paid only for 9 months. The salaries are low compared to Australia too. A top tier teacher with many years of experience can expect to earn a maximum of just over $70,000 and teachers at the start of their career might make $30,000. It’s clear that the teachers I met were dedicated and loved their jobs – they don’t do it for the money – I know teachers in Australia don’t either.
The first week of the tour was more than I could have wished for. I’ve spoken to around 900 children who I hope might enjoy Alice-Miranda, met dedicated librarians and enthusiastic booksellers. Next week we head to Chicago but tomorrow we’re off to spend the weekend in Monterey.