Most of my childhood heroes were writers. I spent hours wrapped up in worlds created by Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary and Laura Ingalls Wilder and Noel Streatfeild and Louise Fitzhugh and Astrid Ericsson Lindgren.
When I wasn’t reading, I was often thinking of characters and storylines. I would imagine conversations with authors. I wanted to know what their days were like, how they were able to put together words in a way that kept me reading, which parts of their fiction were based in reality.
I never did meet one of those heroes (though now I do follow Judy Blume on Twitter, something I never could have imagined in 1981). The next best thing was finding kindred spirits — peers who loved the same books and authors, who could dissect minute details, who found comfort in the same passages.
I still revel in finding someone who shares my taste in literature. (And am disappointed when someone doesn’t embrace my favorites — like a young friend who recently read The Awakening by Kate Chopin and hated it.)
And I’m eager to help my children experience life related to the books they love.
Rick Riordan, author of the Percy Jackson series and the Kane Chronicles, was in town Saturday as part of the Dallas Museum of Art’s children’s book festival. Cooper has read every book the best-selling author has written for children. We planned our day around his appearance.
As we stood outside, waiting to be seated for the speaking engagement, clumps of eager young readers clutched copies of Riordan’s books and started to chat.
Cooper and a like-minded boy behind us discussed Egyptian mythology (the basis of The Red Pyramid andThe Throne of Fire). Three boys in front of us were engaged in a similar discussion about the ancient Greeks.
One of those boys noticed his mom aiming her cellphone in his direction.
“Mom, are you recording me?” he asked, clearly horrified at the very idea.
“No,” she said, clearly even more horrified. “I don’t want to listen to your nerdy book talk.”
She did not use “nerdy” in an endearing way. It was a definite insult, and it was hurled with an ease that indicated frequent use.
Her son, eyes cast down, confirmed it. “She says that all the time.”
The surrounding moms were a little shocked. One finally broke the awkward silence after the cellphone-wielding mom turned her back: “That’s OK. Today’s nerds are tomorrow’s bosses.”
Soon all those “nerds” and their parents plus some dutiful younger siblings were allowed into the church sanctuary (offering a venue spacious enough for the crowd), and I was able to shake the sadness from that one mom’s careless words.
Young people wiggled in pews, some rereading favorite chapters, others craning their necks for clues that Riordan would begin soon. Cooper couldn’t decide which was more pressing, so he did both.
The audience responded with appreciative laughter and applause during Riordan’s speech and reading. The questions they asked were remarkable — thoughtful questions about mythological gods and foreshadowing and character development and point of view.
Then those kindred spirits stood in line in the hot, hot sun to wait for 15 seconds alone with the author. Cooper spent 45 minutes waiting and sweating, book in hand, for Riordan’s signature.
Autograph obtained, Cooper hugged the book to his chest and said, “This was totally worth it.”
Maybe I’m a nerd, but I totally understood why.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.