BARRINGTON, IL — My visits to Countryside School and Barbara B. Rose School in late April started nearly four years ago when this kid named
Alvin, I mean Aidan:wrote me this awesome letter:
“Alvin Ho is scared in the dark.”
Then his younger sister, Joelle, wrote to me in 2012:Followed by his little brother, Brennan, who not only sent this beautiful card last year, but included a jaw-dropping CD of himself reading BRUSH OF THE GODS:Aren’t they marvelous?!!!
Additionally, when I first put up this blog, Aidan saw it and immediately (it was that bad) volunteered his dad’s services to make it look better. The next day his dad, Bill, had given this blog a complete makeover, and he’s been my blog’s unpaid administrator ever since! There but for the kindness of strangers go I! Thanks, Aidan and Bill!!!
So when their librarians invited me to visit their schools in a northwest suburb of Chicago, what could I say?
YESSSS!!!! Of course!
So on the evening of Wednesday, April 23, Aidan, Joey, Brennan, their amazing mom, Sidney, and their super-duper dad, Bill, became strangers no more:After they picked me up from my hotel, they whisked me out for — Chicago-styled pizza!!!
You can’t eat it like regular pizza.You have to use a fork!
It was SOOO good, I can’t even tell you.
After dinner we went to a fancy gourmet chocolate shop where everything was the color of chocolate, even the couch: We ate up our chocolates faster than we could drool, but we got to sit around the fireplace anyway :).
After that they took me to their house so that I could see where they lived.Brennan, who is an author, shared his book with me.
And I shared mine with him.I was remiss in bringing my reading glasses, so had to use a magnifying glass. It was such great fun! I felt like I was visiting Alvin, Calvin and Anibelly!
The next day, I went to Countryside School, where Brennan is a kindergartener. This is Valerie Baartz, my amazing librarian-host at Countryside.
Countryside began offering a Chinese-immersion program last year where you can opt to have a half-day of instruction entirely in Mandarin, five days a week, starting in kindergarten. Imagine learning how to count — in Chinese and on an abacus! It’s a good thing I’ve been going to Chinese school! Here I am giving my first Mandarin presentation and showing off my Chinese practice book to the kindergarteners and first-graders:It was great!
Until I used up my entire Chinese vocabulary.
And there were forty minutes left to my presentation.
Lucky for me, I could count up to 9,999 in Chinese and knew the Chinese words for the Great Wall, Forbidden City and several other tourist attractions to keep things going for a while . . . Plus, I had a few old tricks up my sleeve, like the original egg from POLKA DOT PENGUIN POTTERY, which is usually good at producing some oohs and aahs . . . My audience was suitably impressed, I assure you! Painted eggs, as everyone knows, speak a universal language that everyone understands. (Don’t be fooled by the photo bomb in the lower right-hand corner above.)
After my day of presentations and book signing was over at Countryside, Ms. Baartz rolled the “goods” out the door . . . and drove me to a parking lot somewhere outside of Chicago, where we met a squirmy, bespectacled, lead-footed, brake-squealing character, and some nefarious transactions took place from the back of her car:Sometimes when you’re an author, it’s best to stand there like an idiot and keep your mouth shut, especially so close to the Windy City. You know why they call it that, don’t you? Well, lemme just say this wasn’t the first time questionable stuff happened from the back of a car, in broad daylight, near Chicago . . .
Or the first time that someone who writes for a living gets pushed into a booth in a dark restaurant with a strange name, Claims . . . something, afterwards.
But the food was good! And the company, fascinating. There are no photos, however, on account of we had to eat in a hurry. They do things swiftly around here, not like in New York, where people sit around all night taking pictures of their food.
Anyway, they must have drugged me or something because I went willingly back to Countryside School where the Student Art Fair was in full swing:And Firecracker Man was bursting around the place: And I willingly and happily read excerpts from my forthcoming Alvin Ho book . . . to a new audience every 10-minutes from 6:30 to 8 o’clock.
But that was not all . . .
Many books were waiting to be
cooked, I mean inked, in my dimly lit hotel room that night, or else! Or else I would be cooking, I mean signing late into the night the next day and miss my flight!
How I ever got up the next morning and made it to the Barbara B. Rose School, I’ll never know.But here I am — vertical — with happy young friends and with that slippery, bespectacled, rubber-burning, back-of-the-car wheeler-dealer creature from yesterday. Her name is Pam Meiser, and she’s actually the pencil-bunned, cart-swivelling, encyclopedia-brained, super-nova librarian who had orchestrated my visit to the two schools. Thank you, Pam!!!
Inside, I was greeted by this fantastic banner:In Chinese it says, “Welcome! We love your books!” and “Happy!” Then two Indian brothers greeted me in fluent Chinese and explained that their triplet brother was at home sick, but had made me a special poster, displayed next to the happy yellow banner:Thank you, Milan!
The Rose School was the first school in the district to offer a half-day Chinese-immersion program, so the students here are older and more advanced than Countryside’s. In fact, many students greeted me in Mandarin and continued to converse in Chinese with me as though it were normal to be conversing in Chinese everyday. Because it was!
I was in trouble now. How was I ever going to fake another presentation in Mandarin without being found out???!!!
How to Give a 60-minute Speech in Mandarin When You Know Only Five-minutes Worth:
1. Smile. (5 min.)
2. Wave. (5 min.)
3. Embarrass someone. (10 min.)
4. Wear a dress that makes you look sexy. (Strut: 10 min.)
5. Ask some questions. (5 min.)
6. Do NOT sing along when the Chinese class sings to you in Chinese. (3 min.)Do not even THINK of it. (2 nanosec.)
8. Do NOT sing along when the younger Chinese class sings to you in Chinese. (3 min.)They are super-duper adorable. But you are not. You’re not even close.
8. Teach them Shakespearean insults. (10 min.)In English.
9. Pit them one against another. (10 min.)
10. Cross your fingers and hope to die if all that fake Elizabethan English doesn’t wreck havoc on their pitch-perfect Mandarin tones. (30 sec.)
11. When all else fails, de-mic! De-mic! (normally 4 sec., but due to hair-detangling: 4 min.)
12. RUN!!! (30 sec.)
13. But don’t run into the Chinese classroom . . . Oops!
Or you’ll have to show them what you really know.
Then have a face-to-face with Wei Laoshi . . . and use up your entire vocabulary all over again.
THANK YOU, Countryside and Rose School PTOs, for making my visit possible. THANK YOU, Pam and Valerie, for the tremendous amount of work that you did to make my visit simply PERFECT. THANK YOU, Moy Family, for all your kindness as strangers, and now as friends. THANK YOU, Sidney, for taking all these marvelous pictures. And THANK YOU, Aidan, for starting it all. You’re the dude, man. You ROCK!!!