Tuesday, January 27, 2015

50 States Against Bullying: NEW MEXICO

Another first-time state on the 50 States Against Bullying campaign brought me to New Mexico for stop number thirty-three. Upon entering La Cueva High School, I immediately took time to read some comments on their #ReasonsWhyYouMatter notecards.

As many of you know, my favorite part of being an author is speaking to readers. But many of you don't know, or don't believe me when I tell you, that I get major stagefright. I enjoy myself once I begin, but leading up to it is Anxiety City. Especially when I watch the students start piling in! Here's an unposed photo of that moment. And I do believe you can see the fear in my eyes.

But they were great! Nothing to fear here, dude. (There never is anything to fear, and knowing that is how I get myself to show up to each school rather than faking a flat tire.)

I love when members of the faculty, after the presentation, remark that they were a little surprised and impressed by how attentive the students were for so long. I take that as a compliment, and I think it's partly because the students can tell I really enjoy speaking with them (once I get over my fear of them, of course).

While I didn't make it into the women's restroom myself, I was told about a message scribbled on a tile in there and the responses written around it. While I don't condone writing on walls, I still had to send someone in there to take a pic.

Little comments of positivity make me so happy!

It also made me happy to see Jessie and Chris post themselves proudly wearing their #ReasonsWhyYouMatter wristbands.

Before I headed to the airport, librarian Gerri Barnhart took local YA author Shea Berkley and me out to lunch.

We ate delicious New Mexican cuisine at El Pinto.

Gotta love photobombers.

And here's what happens after I fill my belly with totally legit pinto beans.

So now I'm in the airport, waiting to head to my next state, and contemplating why two girls at La Cueva gave me this.

But still, I really do appreciate it!

It's creepy, but I appreciate it.

Monday, January 26, 2015

50 States Against Bullying: OKLAHOMA

Stop number thirty-two on the 50 States Against Bullying campaign brought me to Oklahoma for the very first time. When I arrived, I had an hour before a booksigning at Best of Books, a great indie bookstore. After the signing, I went out to dinner with the bookstore owners and faculty from the school where I'd be speaking. I left the dinner with some inside jokes about granola and a fictional girl named Rita. (No, I can't tell you the jokes. They're inside jokes!)

The next day, I woke up early to be interviewed on an Oklahoma City news program, which you can watch here. Then I had an entire day to do sightseeing!

And laundry. I also had to do laundry.

First, I went to the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. There were plenty of beautiful paintings throughout the museum, but photographs weren't allowed of my favorites. But upon entering the museum, you're hit with the very effective sculpture, The End of the Trail.

From there, I went to the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum. I will always remember where I was the day the American-bred terrorists bombed the Murrah federal building. I was working at a shoe store, and that's all anyone could talk about that day, employees and customers. To see the site of the bombing in person, and the record of the event captured by this museum, it brought me right back to those emotions. And sometimes it is necessary to be strongly reminded of these tragedies.

The museum contains a dramatic timeline leading up to the event, reminding us how beautiful that day was in Oklahoma City. And then the explosion happened at 9:02am, which is when this clock stopped ticking.

It then follows the search for survivors, the uniting of the citizens, and the capture of the men who destroyed so much.

Outside, it's nearly impossible to speak while taking in the memorial. On one side of the water is a large doorway labeled 9:01, marking the time before the explosion. On the other side is a matching doorway labeled 9:03, marking the time when healing had to begin.

In between, across the water, are chairs representing all of the lives lost.

I could never describe how moved I was the entire time I spent at the museum and memorial, and how much I felt in a daze long afterward. It's a place everyone should visit at some point.

The next day, though, was the reason for my time in Oklahoma. I arrived at Santa Fe High School, and even though my name wasn't on their marquee, they accidentally left a tribute to my book. Just like on the title graphic of Thirteen Reasons Why, the numbers (1 and 3, even) were in red!

At my booksigning at the bookstore two days before, there happened to be a limousine outside. I don't know why it was there, but several students who were there thought it was for me. Isn't that sweet? So I had to let them down by saying I'm not limo-worthy...yet!

But I do often get special parking for my rental car at schools.

#ReasonsWhyYouMatter cards draped across the hallway inside the school.

Sarah Ondak, a student at the high school, posted this photo from near the end of my presentation. I know I use my hands a lot when I speak, which makes me feel more comfortable on stage, but it always makes my photos look silly. But that's cool. It's all good! I'm fine with that.

And here are the students, who had so many great questions when I was done.

The owner of Best of Books took this shot of my signing line. This is always one of my favorite parts of a school visit, because it allows me to speak one-on-one to the readers. Some of them nearly had me in tears with what they shared, while others had me busting up.

And some of them boggled my mind with how much they took notes throughout my book.

a student's book

a teacher's book

Friday, January 23, 2015

50 States Against Bullying: MONTANA

Stop number thirty-one on the 50 States Against Bullying campaign brought me to Montana. I flew in and then drove to my hotel the night before my presentation, and felt very welcomed by the town of Whitefish when I drove past this sign.

Whitefish Middle School was selected to represent Big Sky Country, but they extended an invitation to neighboring schools. The audience contained a few book clubs and students from nearby, as well as parents and school board members. It was heartwarming to hear their applause for their respective schools when I pointed out that the only reason I was speaking to them was because their faculty took the issues in my book seriously and weren't afraid to tackle issues that make many people shy away from even discussing.

Here's a pic of me, taken by the school, as I began my talk.

There was a banner at the school with Thirteen Reasons Why buttons attached, which were made by the school, and students were invited to wear them ahead of my visit. One dude "somehow" managed to have thirteen with him for the event, and I signed them all.

Yes, I'll be checking eBay to see if that's where they end up! (And if the price is really low, I may bid on them myself so my ego doesn't get crushed.)

I'm sure this town looks beautiful throughout the year, but it looks especially magical with snow all around. Since I'm a Christmas geek, I was thankful I got to visit before they took down their decorations.

I was also lucky enough to have a few hours in the afternoon to wander the covered sidewalks of their charming downtown. And I'm not a person who throws out the "charming" word casually!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

50 States Against Bullying: NORTH DAKOTA

It was time to get back on the road (well, mostly in the air) for the 50 States Against Bullying campaign. One of the things I've found most fun about this journey has been the daily change of scenery. For example, for stop number thirty, I flew out of my home airport in California...

...and after three flights, landed in North Dakota.

It's destined to be a long night when just around the corner from my hotel is a cool looking movie theater. Plus a donut shop three doors down? Even better!

The next morning, I drove to the Circle of Nations School in Wahpeton. Another fascinating part of this journey has been seeing first-hand the many types of schools available around this country, all serving different needs. I've spoken at magnet schools, a Catholic school, a continuation school, an all boys school, and a few others. According to its website, Circle of Nations is an "inter-tribal off-reservation boarding school."

Before my presentation began, a group of students performed their anthem. It was a beautiful way to begin!


Several other schools were invited to join us. One bus drove students four hours into Fargo, they spent the night, and then continued on another hour to Wahpeton.

The first I'd heard of Circle of Nations was earlier this month when my friend Shawn McCann told me about it. In 2013, Shawn was an artist-in-residence at their school. (Click here to see a mural he painted at the city zoo.) One of the projects he did with the students resulted in a book of their collected artwork.

Thank you for a personally inspiring visit, North Dakota.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

50 States Against Bullying: NEBRASKA

For my twenty-ninth stop, the 50 States Against Bullying campaign brought me to Nebraska. It was my first time in the Cornhusker State, and while I didn't see any corn husking going on, I did see a whole lot of of bronze pioneer sculptures.

Upon my arrival, I found a really cool indie movie theater (and may have eaten popcorn and Milk Duds there for 148 minutes). The next morning, this was my view of Omaha.

I drove out to Bennington High School, and it was easy to tell I was in the right place.

At the beginning of my two presentations, I was gracefully introduced by...Grace!

First I spoke to the neighboring junior high students. During the Q&A, I was asked a question I'd never been asked before, which concerned Will Smith. And that randomness is why I love Q&A!

Then I spoke to the high school students, but none of them thought to ask about Will Smith.

During both presentations, I told the students that flyers were currently being taped to their lockers. When they left the auditorium, they were encouraged to leave positive messages for other students about why those students matter.

I was happy to see people quickly jump at the opportunity.

In the library, the Christmas tree was decorated with #ReasonsWhyYouMatter cards, which actually make for beautiful ornaments. (Well, maybe not beautiful. But meaningful!)

For lunch, I ate Chipotle with sixteen Bennington students. During lunch, I made a phone call to one student's friend at a nearby school who loves Thirteen Reasons Why. While I crunched yummy chips in his ear, he chewed on a corndog.

But our lunch was interrupted by...a fire drill!

Which meant...fire drill selfie!!!