Sunday, January 9, 2011

ADDIE ON THE INSIDE by James Howe


Back in the summer of 2006 I attended a PAWLP (Pennsylvania Writing and Literature Project) conference and Mr. James Howe was the keynote speaker. He spoke to the room full of 300 educators and shared how he gets ideas and writes. He shared where the idea for the now classic, BUNNICULA orginated from, and about his then current book, THE MISFITS.

Even though this was four years ago, I can still remember how genuine this man was. How transparent. How kind. He shared a few personal stories of bullying and had the whole room in the palm of his hands...especially me. At the time I had just closed my summer day camp, Camp Kindness, and gone back into teaching middle school LA full time. I sat next to my friend Rina, and as James Howe spoke, she leaned in and whispered, "You should tell him about Camp Kindness."

I mouthed back, "No."

She nudged me and whispered, "Do it."

After the room exploded with applause for Mr. Howe's heartfelt presentation, the ginormous line formed for him to sign books. I swear I remember all 300 people lining up. Rina and I sat there talking and talking and she said, "Kate, he would definitely relate to Camp Kindness. Wait till the line gets to the end, and then jump in as the last person."

Me deciding to bite the bullet and be the last person in line was the beginning of our friendship. Rina was right, he loved the concepts I taught my campers at Camp Kindness: tolerance, acceptance and of course, kindness. Since there was no one behind me in line we got to have a pretty decent conversation. I do remember me being REALLY nervous talking with him - the guy is a living writing star - the real deal - and he was talking with me like I wasn't a bumbling dummy. He asked me to email him the link to my camp, scribbled his email down on the back of my flyer, and so it began.

Since 2006 James Howe and I have become friends. He is one of the most genuinely kind human beings I have ever had the pleasure of getting to know. His heart beats for one thing, one strong passion - treating all people with human kindness.

Well, his passion shines through in his latest book, ADDIE ON THE INSIDE. This book is a companion to his critically acclaimed novels, THE MISFITS and TOTALLY JOE. When he shared that he would be sending me an ARC of the book, I was honored - to say the least.

This novel is written in free verse poetry and it is a masterpiece.

If you follow my blog, you know I have very high standards when it comes to books and I do not throw around the word masterpiece lightly. I know what I like when it comes to writing...authenticity. James Howe has given readers an authentic character who has a lot to say. Addie's views on the world are bold, brave and tolerant. I hope Addie will become the hero of adolescents everywhere.

If I had the privilege of going to school with Addie we would've totally been best friends. I know it. She repeatedly stands up for what she believes in, she champions the causes of the bullied...the victims of intolerance...racism...stupidity. She is one heck of a chick.

And this is one heck of a book. I dog-eared so many genius lines and whole poems that I eventually gave up and just enjoyed reading. Never once did I feel like James Howe was talking to me - instead I was literally inside Addie's head - and it was a fascinating place to be.

Enough genuine book love. Just get your hands on this baby when it comes out (which is summer 2011) and you'll see what I mean. It is an important book. A book that matters for all the right reasons.

And James Howe put me in his Acknowledgments. For real. I believe I have read my name approximately 8,672 times and I still can't get over it.

p.s. If you are a teacher, buy a class set. No, buy two class sets - one for this year and one to keep. This book makes me want to get back into the classroom because I would plan an entire Social Justice unit around the necessary topics Addie faces head on. Middle school students are the most amazing age group around - once you help them identify their passion...they are almost unstoppable. They just need to be inspired by their teachers, by their parents - by anyone.

They need to meet Addie.