Friday, March 20, 2015

50 States Against Bullying: DELAWARE

The forty-ninth stop on the 50 States Against Bullying campaign was another Snow Day redo from a several weeks ago.  This, my last state in the "lower 48," was also the first state to ratify the U.S. Constitution. (No, I'm not smart enough to have memorized that fact. It was a part of my introduction.) There wasn't any snow when I arrived the night before my event, but as I drove to the school the next morning, it began. But it was too late to call another Snow Day, so take that Mutha Nature!

After a long drive and a couple cups of coffee, the first thing I had to do was find the nearest school restroom. I always love seeing notices posted around schools. Every school has their own issues to deal with. At Sussex Academy, apparently too many people eat in the bathrooms.


I spoke to classes from grades six through ten. It's always interesting to speak to a wide range of students because there's always one group that's the most fidgety. Everyone paid attention and there weren't any problems, but one group is always the fidgetiest (which spellcheck says isn't a word, but it also says spellcheck isn't a word, so...) no matter what state I'm in. But I'm not going to call out the middle schoolers because I don't want to embarrass them. And they were all awesome!


This school does a lot to establish a healthy culture within their walls. Even just recognizing that a school can have a unique and important culture goes a long way toward thinking about how to keep it encouraging. At the beginning of the year, students write positive messages and group them together to create the feathers of a seahawk.

The school created a detailed unit called Chain Reactions: A Mini Schoolwide Expedition to study how even little things can turn into big issues in both a negative and positive ways. This is discussed using all sorts of teaching areas, from literature to science.

Many students created Found Poems using words and phrases found within Thirteen Reasons Why. It was both inspiring and humbling to read so many of them over lunch. I am such a lucky author!

By the way, I have now committed to memory the state that first signed the Constitution. And you probably have, too!

*fist bump*

Thursday, March 19, 2015

50 States Against Bullying: CONNECTICUT

The forty-eighth stop on my 50 States Against Bullying campaign was supposed to be my thirty-ninth. You can read what became of that original visit right here (it contains lots of snow, one shredded tire, and absolutely no Rob Zombies).

But, as promised, I came back! If I had more time, I would love to have taken a tour of Mark Twain's home, but I settled for this Lego replica in the airport (which did not include a tour).

When I pulled up to Watertown High School, I looked out at the football field to the remnants of what kept me from speaking here last time. It's almost gone now, but they're expecting more snow tonight. Fortunately, I've already given my presentation. So take that, Mutha Nature!

Near the entrance of the library was a poster highlighting several quotes from Thirteen Reasons Why. It's always fun when people quote the book. Usually I can remember writing and obsessing over that particular phrasing. Other times, I don't remember writing it at all and end up feeling impressed with myself ("I sound like a real author!").

Another board displayed student-chosen phrases about the value of writing and why kindness matters. These are students after my own heart! Our job, adults, is to encourage them to never get jaded.

With a five-plus week delay, it was wonderful to finally speak to these students. They had created a video to introduce me, with thirteen students describing what the book meant to them. As I told you, these people were after my heart!

My visit concluded with a nice pasta lunch with several of the students. And by "nice" pasta lunch, I mean there was an actual chef! Nice, right? When our bellies were full, we got into several great conversations, including one about movies. Whiplash and Perks of Being a Wallflower were specific favorites. And here's the night I told them about that made many of them jealous. Truthfully, it would've made me jealous if I wasn't there. But I was!


I also love hearing about specific scenes in my books and why they meant so much to a reader. They're often scenes that, had I needed to trim the book, would have been the first to go because I didn't fully understand them myself. Yet I could feel that those scenes were important (for some reason) so I wrote them down. Another thing I love is when a female reader admits they picked up my first book reluctantly, not believing a man could understand things from a teenage girl's perspective. That's something I hear a lot! In fact, many people who don't like the book attribute it to the fact that I'm a dude and couldn't possibly understand. But I guess we all have different philosophies based on our experiences. In the case of the student at Watertown High who reluctantly read my book, I changed her mind. Woo-hoo!

What a beautiful world.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

50 States Against Bullying: WEST VIRGINIA

The forty-seventh stop on my 50 States Against Bullying campaign brought me back to West Virginia. I say "back" because I was here not too long ago, but the school had a Snow Day. Amd so...I'm back!

I had so much on my mind when I arrived the night before my school visit, so I needed to numb my brain before heading to my hotel. And since it was St. Patrick's Day, of course, I went to see a movie! (Oh, that's not how you thought I was going to numb my brain? Then you don't know me very well! It's movies, baby.)

I saw Cinderella, which was really good. Very cool visuals. Great acting. And to prove I was there, I took a pic of the screen. (But I did it at the very end, just in case they kicked me out for doing that.)

The next day, I spoke to students in the Capital High School auditorium. A student named Jillian tweeted the following pic of me on stage.

I know you're here to see the students and not me, but I had to share that speaking pic because it's one of the only ones where I'm not making a funny face. So I'm proud of myself for that! (Be proud of yourself however you can, apparently.)

The Capital High students were joined by students from Horace Mann Middle School and Sissonville High School.

After my presentation, I joined some students from all the schools in a meeting organized by the Gay Straight Alliance. They discussed many issues, including the upcoming Day of Silence, an event I first learned of today, but which sounds symbolically powerful. The back of the GSA shirts read:

As the GSA adviser said during her talk, "People that do nothing love to tell other people that what they're doing is stupid." The ensuing conversation confirms my belief that many adults would be served well by going to schools and listening to students discuss the importance of not just speaking up, but how to speak up. I know I learned a lot! While there may not be a perfect way to get a message across, if the message isn't being heard then we should consider why and push that message in a new way. The girl I met today who led the first Day of Silence here did it alone. What she wanted to accomplish, she felt, got lost. People may have listened to the silence, but they didn't hear the message. The next year, she tried a new way to organize the conversation, and hundreds joined her.

Teens inspire me so much!

We are all in this together.

Or, we can be.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

50 States Against Bullying: ARKANSAS

The forty-sixth stop on my 50 States Against Bullying campaign was Arkansas. Their motto is Regnat Populus ("the people rule"), But a more accurate motto would be Regnat Razorback, because those piggies are everywhere, decorated in all sorts of designs.

There, I gave an NPR interview in the morning, then met up with local YA authors Kate Hart and Karen Akins for coffee, followed by a trip to the Clinton House Museum. I love getting few extra hours in a town to check out its history and culture. Every place has something! This museum is the house where Bill and Hillary Clinton first lived. In fact, they got married in the living room.

As a previous resident of this house, Mr. Swanson invented the chicken pot pie as we know and love it in this very kitchen! That American achievement is commemorated on the refrigerator, and that's why I think we should change the saying to " American as chicken pot pie."

From there, I drove to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. I'm always amazed when I get to see an art piece I've seen in books or studied in school in real life. It almost feels unreal, like it must be a forgery. This museum's current exhibit is filled with such treasures, such as this one by Mark Rothko, which is called Orange and Yellow. (Someone should tell the gallery they hung it upside down.)

This sculpture by Emma Marie Cadwalader-Guild, Free, became even more powerful the more I walked around it.

A family favorite has always been Mary Cassatt.

Since my son loves When Pigasso Met Mootisse by Nina Laden, I had to take pics of works by its two artistic inspirations, though they didn't have any of Picasso's cubist works on display.

That evening, I spoke at the Fayetteville Barnes and Noble.

The event was a fundraiser for the Arkansas Crisis Center. As I say in every speech, these organizations are one of the most beautiful things our society offers. Make you sure you know the ones in your area.

There were faculty members from Fayettevelle High School, where I would visit the next day, in attendance. But introducing me was Mayor Lioneld Jordan. I had never been introduced my a mayor before! I was quite excited (especially since, from what I read online, he seems like a cool dude), but when he presented me with a Key to the City? That. Was. AMAZING!!!

The next morning, I arrived at the high school for a meet-n-greet with faculty, as well as a chance to dip into some Dunkin' Donuts. Why were these donuts green? Because it's St. Patrick's Day, of course! (But on any other day, do not eat the green donuts. Let's just say, lesson learned.)

I spoke to the entire sophomore class, and these students provided me with some of the most touching moments of my entire career. The abundance of hugs after my presentation was beautiful, but some of the things they opened up about can do nothing but humble a guy and make him feel honored to have earned that trust simply by writing honestly. It's an honor I never take for granted and I will feel grateful for forever.

One of the most beautiful yet simple expressions of caring that I've seen involved two students who stuck around to share their experiences with me. While I was speaking with one, the other stood a few feet back but could hear what was being said. The second student finally spoke up. "I know we haven't been friends in a while, but you can always talk to me."

And that's what this has all been about.

Plus, a couple students went out the night before and bought rings for all three of us.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

50 States Against Bullying: IOWA

The forty-fifth state on my 50 States Against Bullying campaign was...

...really foggy! But I eventually found my way to West High School in Iowa City. (In case you didn't know, that's in Iowa.)

The first thing I noticed upon entering the school many were posters and displays for something called Behind the Mask. This is a student created group helping to erase the stigma around mental health issues. As their Facebook page says, "Whether you're battling, supporting those who struggle, or just curious, join us!" There can be no understanding or help without first acknowledging an issue exists. Stigmas keep too many people from discussing the very things we need to talk about. So once again, I'm tremendously inspired by the students I'm meeting on this tour.

I was also tremendously happy to see this Post-It in the school librarian's office!

When I arrived at the auditorium where I would be speaking, the school orchestra was practicing for that evening's performance. They were so good! Even though they left the stage before any other students arrived, I pretended they were my opening act, which made me feel like a total rock star.

And it was a huge honor to be introduced by Ryan Hansen, the student who created the school's Behind the Mask group.

At the end of each presentation, but before I answer questions, I like to take a picture of the audience to help me remember each visit (as well as share their beautiful faces with you!). This time, after I took the photo, someone said they weren't ready. Apparently I was supposed to count to three. And sometimes I do! But I didn't know it was a necessity. So I took a second photo. Unfortunately, that one turned out too blurry, so I'm using the first one. And yes, I can totally see the person who asked for a retake. She was right, she's not looking at the camera.


In the audience, all the way in Iowa, was a person I met years ago at a birthday party for a mutual friend in California. Shayla Shader's dad actually went to high school with my wife!

After the presentation, I had lunch with several students, teachers, and librarians. We had a great conversation, finished it off with delicious cupcakes, and I get so excited every time I see a copy of my book with lots of colorful Post-Its marking passages.

Before leaving, I was given a t-shirt for the school's now defunct Quidditch team. Based on the interest in my new shirt, I get the feeling there may be a new gathering of the Broom Shakalakas. (They also gave me a shirt for my son!)

Thanks for a great visit, Iowa. And if you're keeping track, yes, you're the first school to make me use the name Post-It two times in one blog post. (Or, does that now count as three times?)