Teen Read Week 2010, Florida – The Details (originally posted 10/28/10)

As promised, here is a little play-by-play of my trip to Florida for Teen Read Week 2010.  The invitation was initially extended by lovely lady librarian Paula Godfrey in Pinellas County. 
Paula is awesome.  Tall, great hair, strappy shoes, and pleasure to be around.  On a lunch break, she even took me to the beach!
She’s also super-organized.  I was taken care of by no less than six incredible librarians, zigzagging the breadth and width of Pinellas County, with a jaunt into Hillsborough to boot.  I learned about education (high school starts at 7 am in Florida!), the Goodyear blimp (there are 12 blimp pilots and three blimps at any given time!), and soft serve ice cream flavored with fresh squeezed orange juice.
We started the day with a live webcast from the Pinellas County School Board.  It was fantastic– three cameras, a sparkling hostess named Susan, and a live studio audience.  This was the 13th year of the author webcast and I was honored to be the guest.  The day wrapped up with a visit ot Largo Middle School.
Tuesday began with a crack-of-dawn visit to Palm University High, and then a jaunt over to Tarpon Springs Middle School– this is in a town known for it’s natural sponges, which they dive for a the “Sponge Docks.”  I love that name.  It’s like “boondocks” but spongier.  Sadly,  I did not get to visit.  Next time!  Then it was on to Morgan Fitzgerald Middle School and back to the hotel for a Chick-fil-a dinner and some sleep.
Wednesday we visited Dunedin High, Boca Ciega, High, and Bay Point Middle School.  The highlight?  It was Mardi Gras Day at Dunedin, as evidenced by the Divine Miss Cappel-Kane, ENglish teacher extraordinare.  Need I say more?
Everywhere I went, students and teachers had put such great effort into giving me a warm welcome, I was floored.  Handmade signs, research, chocolate chip cookies!  It was amazing.
And that was just Pinellas County!  Thursday was an all-day extravaganza in Hillsborough County at the Instructional Services Center thanks to Christine Van Brunt with Hillsborough County Schools.  I was chaperoned by the fantastic, funky Lorie Tonti– a Hillsborough librarian and a kindred spirit I’m happy to say.  We read the same books, like the same bumper stickers… the list goes on.  The day was spent talking to two ginormous groups of high school and middle school students.  It was a great discussion, but my favorite question?  “Have you ever judged a book by its cover?”  How very zen!
Thanks to everyone who came to the Center and brought their books!  I signed so many copies of HOT, SOUR, SALTY, SWEET and FLYGIRL that my signature has gone on vacation and I can only mark and X now.  It was AWESOME.  After a long, but exciting day, Lorie dropped me off at the airport where my next host retrieved me.
Nancy Millichamp is the wonderful Library Information Specialist at Madeira Beach Fundamental Middle School.  She’s got an amazing library, complete with a dolphin statue,
a hammerhead shark on the ceiling (not to mention sea turtle shells confiscated by the authorities and donated to the school),
and a beautiful antique scrimshaw collection (including a Sweeney Todd carving!).
The school is right on the water and boasts its own mangrove grove (repetitive but grammatically correct)
and a fantastic Marine Science program.  We watched kids toss nets from the school’s pier into the water, and admired the bat ray in their own touching pool.  It was fantastic.  On top of a couple of assemblies, I got to do a writing workshop and an animation talk with some of the kids from “Mad Beach.”  It was great fun.
At the end of the day, Nancy and her funky daughter, Clio (I should have asked, of course, is it with an “e”?) took me out for the aforementioned orange juice ice cream, and even let me hold them up while I took pictures of the cone-shaped building across the street.
For the record, cross the street to Citrus Country for the ice cream.  It’s delish.
After a quick cone, it was back to the airport for the flight home to LA.  Thanks so much to all of my caretakers.  I enjoyed every lunch, every car chat, and tour I was given.  And to the students of both counties– thank you reading my books and hanging out with me.  It was a blast.
Next week, I’m off to North Kirkwood Middle School outside of St. Louis, MO, then home again for the winter and more work on ORLEANS.  Then the true work of the Middle Hundred begins!