Hey, Ma, I’m on TV!

I had no idea what to expect when I was invited to Altoona, Pennsylvania, for a series of school visits. But I liked the name (“Altoona!”), and I liked Pennsylvania. So I agreed. I just wasn’t prepared for the warm welcome I received there from readers young and old.

Thanks to a grant from the AASD Foundation, I was to visit eight schools in four days. And at each school, I’d be talking to the entire student body at once. Was I ready for this challenging schedule? Only time would tell.

kids with paper hatsFrom the first school, the kids’ reaction was almost overwhelming. Many of the schools chose to hold a Hat Day in my honor, and students sported everything from paper Clark the Shark hats, to sombreros, ball caps, and top hats. Some of them were even labeled “Bruce Hale’s Hat Club.”

Managing their enthusiasm was challenging at times, especially with 750 kids ranging from wide-eyed kindergarteners to too-cool 5th graders all jammed into the same space. But we managed. Kids shared their stories and artwork with me — too many Clark the Sharks and Chet Geckos to count. Support from teachers, librarians, and other educators was so heartwarming. In fact, one enthusiastic school board member came to all my presentations and was probably able to recite my talk along with me by the last one!

Selfie with Bruce Hale and an audience of elementary school studentsSome of my most enjoyable interactions came at lunches with selected students. One group of fifth-graders at Penn-Lincoln School started brainstorming my work-in-progress with me. And a girl from that group told me her family had a cat named Not Bob. When I asked why, she said that when they brought the cat home, her mother said, “What shall we name the cat?” Her father said, “Bob,” and the daughter said, “No, not Bob.” “Fine,” said the dad, “we’ll call it Not Bob.” And the name stuck.

One of the most touching moments came on my last day, after a presentation at McAuliffe Elementary. I’d noticed that a TV camera was set up and recording my talk. A bit unusual. When I visited the library afterwards, a news reporter named Jordan Tracy introduced himself. He’d been a huge Chet Gecko fan when he was a kid, even going so far as to write his own detective stories. When he found out I was coming to Altoona, he just had to do a story on my visit. We chatted, and I had the rare opportunity to see what impact my books had had on a young reader, and how he still recalled that when he was grown. This is why we write!

Selfie with Bruce Hale and Jordan TracyFinally, after four whirlwind days, I boarded that airplane home with a smile on my face. Many thanks to all the teachers and librarians of Altoona School District for making this visit possible. You set a high bar for future visits!

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