The Power of One Writer
Back Yards, Ethiopia and Children's Books

volcanoes and floods and dolls oh my

Today in New York City, I heard two of the sweetest name stories.  Whenever I sign books for kids with unusual names, I want to ask them if they know the story behind their name.  Willa, today, has cousins in Bethel, Kansas, where I have relatives, too, and she was named for Willa Cather.  Willa Cather!  Now there was someone who observed her prairie world.  (Like my grandson, here loving Kansas flowers the other evening.)  The other was Cariea, and she was named for a nurse who cared for a dying 18-year-old, an 18-year-old who said if he ever were able to have a child, he’d name her Cariea.  I also signed for kids who share my birthday day.

I told them about the worst birthday present I ever had.  On April 17, 1997, my mom and dad were trying to call to wish me happy birthday, but I was evacuating from the house where we had hung our kids’ home made Christmas ornaments, where they had planted giant pumpkins, where my daughter had unwrapped her American Girl doll.  Where they’d been children.  We never lived there again.

Today in New York City, I also met girls who don’t speak English…girls trying hard to get home to places like Paris and Zurich.  They can’t because a volcano is spewing grit into the air.  Disasters are so hard.  So, so personal when they happen to us.  And they feel as if they’ve messed up everything and will never be over.

They never are quite over (especially, I guess, when one writes books about them :>)  But some of my best speaking moments are thes ones where I know my words made someone else feel, just for a moment, what I felt that April 17 when the river became wild.

Or what I felt the first time I splashed down the friendliest river, ever, on the savannah in Ethiopia.

Words build bridges to our lives.

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