Kimberly Willis Holt

May 7, 2011

It was an old story. They’d both heard the tale many times. But a good story traveled like water, constantly flowing, making rivers from one person to the next, returning and filling them up all over again (p. 305).

Those are the closing words in Kimberly Willis Holt's The Water Seeker. I love that image of a story as water, making rivers between us, filling us up and "constantly flowing". It is such a good description, isn't it?  Those very same words could also be used to describe Kimberly Willis Holt and her recent visit to our little base school here in Sicily. Her words both spoken and written moved through our community with the force of a pulsating river overflowing with energy, wisdom, wit, and kindness. 
We initially contacted Kimberly because of her connection to the military. She was a military child herself, who then grew up to become an award winning author, who then went on to right a fabulous series of chapters books about a spunky Navy kid named Piper Reed. Our family first became acquainted with Piper during Adam's deployment. Noah was five years old at the time and I was actively seeking out books related to deployment. I hate say it but most of those deployment books were pretty disappointing...weak writing, poor illustrations, too mushy, or too specific or too mature or too babyish or just plain boring...until we stumbled upon an audio version of Piper Reed, Navy Brat and I quickly realized that every military family should have the entire Piper Reed series on their bookshelf. Seriously, there aren't any other books out there that are as funny and or as real a portrayal of military family life as these. 
As part of our preparations for Kimberly's visit, the school librarian and I organized a Piper Reed Club for students in grades 2-5. We were shocked and thrilled when over 55 kids signed up. 55 kids voluntarily and enthusiastically gave up their lunch periods and recesses once a week to read and discuss the Piper Reed books. They laughed at the funny parts. There are lots of funny parts. And they spoke candidly and poignantly about how their experiences with deployments, PCSing (military term for moving every three years), and living overseas mirrored Piper's experiences. They kept a group journal with questions they wanted to ask Kimberly during her visit. And they even co-authored a book about Piper Reed moving to Sicily based upon their collective experiences. Seeing this special group of students finally get to meet Kimberly in person was one of the highlights of the whole experience for me.
But Kimberly's work goes beyond the Piper Reed series both in terms of her writing and her impact on our students. During her three days at the school, she led the older students in intense two hour writing workshops and she spoke with all of the students (K-6th) about her journey to becoming a writer. She revealed that she still writes all of her first drafts by hand, that her first book was rejected 17 times before finally being accepted for publication, that she makes lists of words that appeal to her each day, and that her grandmother's clothesline has played a role in several of her books. She shared photos of her favorite writing spots, made us giggle with family stories, and emphasized the importance of careful observation and re-writing. Those nitty gritty details not only drew us all in and made us feel a personal connection to Kimberly, they also served as powerful reminders that success comes from hard work, passion, and determination. And that fostering success in others can be as simple as making the time to read a child's writing with true interest just as her science teacher did for Kimberly years ago. 

When I wrote the initial grant application to get funding for this author visit, I emphasized the enduring value of having the opportunity to hear a successful writer read their work aloud and speak about their experiences. This past Thursday was our final meeting for the Piper Reed Club. As part of our wrap up, we discussed Kimberly's visit. All of the kids were very enthusiastic about it, but one child's simple words went straight to my heart: "She told me I was a good writer". I am confident that fourth grade girl will never forget those words or the time she spent with Kimberly Willis Holt. I hope that those powerful words are now permanently lodged in a special place deep within her psyche and that they continue to give her hope and encouragement when she faces challenges, rejections, and hours of re-writes. Meeting authors in person is a pretty exciting experience, but meeting authors like Kimberly whose dedication and passion are so sincere, can truly a be a life shaping experience. 
If you haven't read anything by Kimberly Willis Holt, I highly recommend that you do. She has books that appeal to all ages from picture books to easy chapter books to novels. In addition to the Piper Reed books, I especially loved The Water Seeker (see another one of my favorite quotes here) and My Louisiana Sky. If you ever have the opportunity to hear one of Kimberly's presentations or readings, do not miss it. If you have a favorite author experience, please share it.
se7en said...

Oh how wonderful!!! To meet a real live living author, who they all relate to so well!!! What a brilliant adventure into the world of books.

likeschocolate said...

I can't wait to check out her books. I cried when you said that the child was told she was a good writer. Congratulations!

Laurie said...

Yep, add another one crying about the girl being told she was a good writer. And what an amazing gift for all those kids!

Emily M. said...

wow, how amazing!!!! what an opportunity! fantastic, lucia. being a huge fan of kids lit, i am very familiar with her name (perhaps she's been a Horn Book contributor?), but have never actually read any of her books. must remedy that ASAP!

Juniper said...

Great post, you brought us inside the experience with you and what a powerful positive one it was for everyone involved. I shall be looking her up! Well done to you for spearheading such an event, I think it touched the lives of many young and old! I heard a talk by Isabel Allende when I was a freshman at university and my respect and awe of her as a writer and as a person increased to new levels.

Gayle said...

can you be any more awesome? lucia, you always inspire me and indirectly those lucky kids. hats off!

Dim Sum, Bagels, and Crawfish said...

Thanks everyone! It really was an amazing experience for all of us.

Juniper, Isabel Allende is one of my favorites....I'd love to hear her in person. I heard Azar Nafizi (Reading Lolita in Tehran) a couple of years ago and she was very inspiring. We also saw David Sedaris around the same time and he, of course, cracked us up.

But one of my favorite author experiences has to be Jan Brett. She came to Japan several times while we were living there. Similar, to Kimberly she has a personal connection to the military and she is also fabulous to meet in person.

Happy Mother's Day to all of you! And Happy Reading! We are getting ready to do some serious traveling and I am going to be looking for some good reading recommendations. Have any?

Martha said...

You are such a good Mom. Happy Mother's Day.

Karla said...

The librarian at Russell's school organized a Family Read program with local author, Fred Bowen, who writes children's books that revolve around sports but that have "a life lesson" embedded in the story, too. He also talked with the kids and parents about how he got into writing and did a Q & A's session with the students/parents---the writing workshop sounds like a great activity. We haven't read any of her books either, but I'll add her to our list, too. Especially with our move coming up and the first one that Russell & Em will really "experience." Congratulations on writing the grant for the kids to have that opportunity. Enjoy your summer travels.

Dana said...

Thanks for making a difference for kids.

Mom said...

Beautiful experience, Beautiful post!
What an accomplishment with so many beneficiaries.

Anonymous said...

I'll have to check out some of those books. We finally got Judson interested in reading with the whole Percy Jackson books. So maybe these will help feed his love of reading now. (He would read what I gave him for school work but never just sit down and read for enjoyment, until Percy Jackson) Glad to have some other ideas.

Sounds like the whole group had a lot of fun. What an awesome experience for those kids!


Heather said...

Wonderful! I'm so impressed by your vision and hard work in bringing this about. Truly a gift to all those children. Can't wait to check out her work!

Corinne said...

Lucia - I AM SO PROUD OF YOU!! This is fantastic, a miracle, a revelation. This mostly somehow reaffirms my belief that there is good in the world, that good people will come and teach important lessons, straight from the heart.


You made my night.

holly b said...

What a neat experience Lucia. Thanks for sharing it. I love reading about watershed moments in children's lives like meeting such and author. I too totally and unexpectedly teared up about the girl being told she was a good writer.

This is inspiring to me and makes me wonder what I could suggest to our little school here.

And I'm excited for a new series of books to explore with my kids! I haven't heard of her before.

Hope all is going well with your visit to the States and Noah's surgery.

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