I have been blessed to have been embraced into the classrooms and hearts of so many teachers, including the amazing Katy Van Aken. Katy (who lives in Indiana) emailed me one August having just finished The Fences Between Us, writing that she couldn’t wait to share the book with her “angels.” A lively correspondence ensued, with Katy sharing photos of her students wearing her dad’s Navy uniform as part of enriching their understanding of WWII. Writer’s insecurities and doubts got blasted to smithereens when an email from Katy would arrive, sharing a new way her “angels” had connected with my books. She is the sole reason my Audacity Jones books are set in Swayzee, Indiana! Katy is now enjoying a well-deserved retirement, perfecting her slime-making skills under the guidance of her grandson, and working on telling her own stories. Please welcome my dear friend today for a reader’s perspective on Friend Friday!

Katy Van Aken

Friend Friday from a reader, a grandma-virtual learning support-retired 5th grade teacher’s point of view.

Magic. I’m a believer! I dreamed of attending every author conference on the planet to hear these geniuses talk about their latest, from an idea to a book in my hands. Friend Friday is a front row seat.

Kirby’s introductions transform 2D book notes and web info into real, live, walking, talking authors and illustrators, as if we’re friends who just haven’t met.

Friend Friday is a treasure trove of information. I shake my head in wonder at the process, courage, and perseverance it takes to get to publication. The journey wraps each book in even greater meaning. Like a story’s first page, illustrations are reading rocket fuel. Friend Friday puts readers in the artist’s studio. Each Friday book is a gift I can’t wait to read and share.

Being a Friend Friday fan began with a Scholastic Book Club freebie: The Fences between Us by Kirby Larson. (Whoever she was. I’m ashamed to say I had no clue.) Historical fiction. Not my favorite genre. But summer vacation had begun. I was missing my students, began to read, couldn’t stop, and wrote my first ever fan letter. Receiving an answer never occurred to me. Certain my fifth graders would LOVE this book, I ordered copies. And then Kirby emailed, offering to answer students’ questions. They must have driven her crazy asking about The Fences Between Us and The Friendship Doll. She answered every single one. We were mega-fans. Kirby’s Audacity Jones to the Rescue began in our hometown, and she presented to our schools. WOW! What a celebration! If you’d been there, you’d have heard, “Can she come back?” “When’s the next author visit?”

Katy’s then 5th graders acting out the Wolf Point arrival from Hattie Big Sky

Author info is essential. If I could time-machine you back to my classroom, you’d hear the kids asking so many author questions. “How do they know what to write first? How do they decide what a character will do? Do next? What else did they write? Do they have kids? Do they have pets?” “Is there a sequel?” The excitement of knowing is contagious.

And talk about resonating: sometimes kids kept books on their desktops long after they finished reading them. Maybe they were working something out or hatching a plan, bonded with characters who changed or helped them, or they just plain enjoyed every word. Me too. It’s no surprise that characters and authors are indelible in our hearts.      

We cheered for authors, shared first pages and posted favorite titles, chapters, quotes, and words! In Frostmarris Castle, Look-Lab, the Oval Office, and under desks, kids signed and rated classroom library books. Adding and sharing comments became ritual. The list of favorites transformed into our end-of-the-year Favorite Parts of Favorite Books, an hour long play of parts of five that made the cut. And as the saying goes, “if I had a nickel for every time” kids wished an author could come to the play, we’d all be ordering even more books.

These Friend Friday quotes are a burst of energy and direction as I provide support for my grandson during this virtual school year and work to put words on paper: “Love does not have to be spoken.” “Young readers carry big questions and chapter books have words enough to explore those questions with respect and heart.” “Creativity reminds us to hope.” Yes! I jump up and down and turn cartwheels. (Well…in my heart, I do the cartwheel part.)

Thank you over the moon and back, Kirby. Thank you, every one of you, for being an awesome friend on Friday.