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An evening with Tui T. Sutherland (An artifact from the Beforetimes)  

Last March, I started a post about an author event at the Cambridge Public Library. But I was distracted by ::gestures at 2020:: and eventually decided it wasn’t worth finishing. The idea of attending a non-Zoom author’s talk (i.e., in person) was already weird and dated after a few weeks. I felt like the moment had passed. 

Looking at that post and my pictures now, after ten months of remote school and work, ten months of socially distanced life, I feel like I’m a character in Netflix’s The Man in the High Castle--seeing an alternate reality that both makes me sad (about the loss and the current state of everything) and gives me hope (maybe we can live like this again someday). 

Come join me as I travel back to March 5, 2020, when my eleven-year-old and I had a rare (even then) school night out to attend the fourth Margaret and H. A. Rey Curious George Lecture delivered by Tui T. Sutherland. COVID-19 was spreading but didn’t seem to be enough of an immediate threat to warrant missing a special literary gathering (how innocent we all were). I was determined to go because my son rarely agreed to do things that weren’t familiar. Or at home. Sitting in a crowded auditorium and/or waiting in long lines was especially disqualifying (he’s said that Disney World is his idea of hell, which...well, same here). 

Tui T. Sutherland is the author of, among other books, the mega-popular thirteen-book Wings of Fire series. I am the parent of Tui’s #1 fan, so we had been looking forward to this event for weeks. Tui’s #1 fan had also been counting the days until Tuesday, March 3, when the second book in the Wings of Fire: Legends series was released. My #1 fan received Dragonslayer on Tuesday and stayed up super late reading for a week.

The giddy tween energy in the packed auditorium was unlike anything I’ve experienced before. These kids were unabashedly excited to hear a beloved author talk about her books. Those who had already received Dragonslayer were the envy of their friends. Sitting and listening to an auditorium full of kids talking about books was something I didn’t know I needed. Their enthusiasm was an injection of hope. 

Tui talked about how asking herself “what if” questions helps give her ideas (e.g., what if there was a world where dragons were in charge?). As she talked about some of her books’ Big Ideas about fate and destiny; about nature versus nurture; about wasps and their terrifying habits, which she wouldn’t talk about in detail because “I want you to be able to sleep at night.” (If there’s a better way to encourage wasp research, I don’t know it.)  

The audience members had plenty of their own questions. Q: “Why did you have queens of the dragons and no kings?” A: “I felt there were more than enough stories with kings.” 

What came through clearly all night long was that Tui was as delighted to be with her readers as they were to be with her. 

Check out the book signing line, in slideshow below. We’d been in line for half an hour at this point. We didn’t know it, but we had another hour to go. 

We spent an hour and a half behind this super fan (below). In addition to her backpack, she was wearing a Wings of Fire t-shirt and carrying a stack of well-read books and a huge WoF poster to be signed. She practiced questions she wanted to ask Tui, but as time went on (and on), she agreed with her mom that maybe she should limit her questions (thankfully). 

Finally. Finally! It was our turn. My reserved kid surprised me; he actually had his own question to ask (about story arcs!), which made the long wait and late night worth it. 

CPL’s website provided this information about the evening: “The Margret and H. A. Rey Curious George Lecture Series connects children and their families to the magic of reading through a memorable experience with an author or illustrator. Generously sponsored by the Curious George Fund, the series encourages the community to celebrate outstanding and engaging books for young readers.” 

Keep wearing a mask (and get vaccinated) so we can gather together again to celebrate books, creators, readers, and community. 

Kitty Flynn
Kitty Flynn is consulting editor for The Horn Book, Inc.

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