The readers’ question about The Hoarders that appeared to be the favorite one startled me at first. Perhaps it was because The Hoarders was my debut novel or maybe because it was my first school presentation. But I’ll always remember that first-ever author visit to a school where grades four through seven had assembled in the library.
I thought I was prepared. I thought I was ready. After all, who knows more about the book I created than I do? What completely surprised me, though, was what the students thought was interesting about The Hoarders.
The Value of Backstory
They wanted to know in detail about Grey Tooth, the homeless boy who thinks it’s safer to pretend he’s a wolf than to be a boy. Grey Tooth comes on the scene at the point where the boys realize that hiding out and not attending school could lead in a direction they hadn’t anticipated. Grey Tooth is actually an extremely minor character, but during my school visit the students asked me in detail why Grey Tooth made the decisions he did. Good thing I invent extensive backstory for every character!
On my second school author visit, the same question happened almost immediately. Why does Grey Tooth act the way he does? But I was prepared! I had taken the backstory and created a short play about a scene that does not occur in the book, which I cast with a few student volunteers. I handed around bits of costumes and props, and told the students they needed to listen to the story I’d narrate very carefully so they would know what their character was doing. Then I began to read.
Inventing a Scene not in the Book
When fire breaks out in the boys’ apartment building one evening while their mother is at work, the two brothers grab their backpacks and run for safety. In the park outside their burning building, waits Grey Tooth, cold and hungry. It would be a spoiler to tell you how the play resolves, so I guess you’ll just have to call me to come visit your class at school!
What comes out of this discussion of a minor character in The Hoarders, though, is some animated observations about character. We also discuss the contents of the backpacks in terms of emergency preparedness for kids.
Music for the joy of it
Then I teach them the rap song I wrote for Cheyenne and Joaquin, “My Joke about a Worm,” and it’s all pretty lively. Lots of fun!