It was a big, overstuffed envelope. Inside were dozens of handmade thank-you cards from the 5th and 6th grade kids at Oliver Wendell Holmes middle school in San Diego. I spoke to them a couple of weeks ago about my new young adult novel, Leapholes, and we had a terrific time together.
I’ve gone to schools before, and it’s not unusual to get thank-you letters. But many times you can tell that a teacher wrote something down on the board, each kid was told to copy it down dutifully, and then the teacher gathered them up and put them in the mail. Not these Holmes kids. These thank-yous were handmade all the way—original artwork, each child writing his or her own thoughts.
I knew these kids were special. Even before I arrived, I had a note from a girl named Sierra who wrote "Your book is sooooooo good. It is like eating a delicious piece of chocolate cake. Or better." One card from a boy named Jack came with a picture of Leapholes and a frog. Inside it said: “I’m leaping with thanks.” Nice pun. Another one from Chandler said: “I loved your presentation . . . I wish I could send you something. I can! Look on back of card.” I turned over the card. There was a small, handmade pouch taped to the backside. I opened it. Inside was a miniature teddy bear. Thank you, Chandler. It is now hanging from my car’s rearview mirror.
As Art Linkletter used to tell us, “Kids say the darndest things.” Each of these letters was a total joy that I will cherish. I don’t have space to share them all, so I’ve picked a few samplings. One advance note: Some of these letters will make sense only if you know that it was my daughter Kaylee who inspired me to write Leapholes, and the characters in the book (Kaylee, Ryan, and Ainsley) were named after my kids.
From Cary S:
An author came to my school
He was very cool.
He talked about writing books.
One kid said he could cook.
He told us how he used his daughter
To help make the book.
He said he would have brought her,
But she was at school.
It was very cool
Having an author come to my school.
From Olivia G:
Hi. . . . I thought that your book was awesome. Hear are some more character ideas for your next books for young adults: have some one very WEIRD in your books; have a kid that is like a nerd, have a rich boy or girl and just go for it and see what other kids think. . . . Write sequals to books. Remember these are just ideas and you don’t have to use these in your book.
“Thanks, Mr. Grippando. Youve inspired me.”
“Thank you very much 4 coming. I thought that you were excellent. . . . P.S. I ♥Your book. P.S.S. Letter for Mr. Grippando’s kids: Hey guys! It must be pretty darn cool to be in a book. I wish that I could be in one. Keep on encouraging your dad to write more! Love your big fan, Jarah.
“The thing I liked most was how you were inspired. Maybe I could get lucky and be inspired to do something I like to do. So thanks for coming.”
“All of your books sound very good. I believe that you will be a great author. I do not know why but your stories seem to interest me in a strange way. I think that it is great that you will take time out of your busy day just to listen to our not so great questions. I wish to be a writer when I grow up. I usually write fantasy but I like to write horror too. I once tried to write a mystery but it was not very good. I never thought about writing a book about law but I know I am not smart enough to write one anyways. Best of luck.”
[Tory: I have a feeling that someday I’ll be asking you for an autograph. JMG]
From Catherine M:
“I really liked the talk you had with us because I didn’t get bored like most times. Your stories were very interesting and I didn’t want to leave, I wanted to listen to your stories all day. Thank you for coming all the way to San Diego to talk to us. I went home and told my mom the stories and all about the book “Leapholes,” and I am looking forward to reading it. Other friends of mine say the book has been fantastic and also wanted you to write another book for young adults.”
From Andrew F:
“My favorite part was when you answered all of our questions by telling us stories. Some of the questions actually helped me with my writing."
[Andrew: I hope my answers to the questions also helped!]
“Thank you for coming. I had a very good time because you gave me all the info I needed to know.”
[There you have it, folks: Two hours with me, and that’s “all the info you need to know.”]
From Jeff M:
“I really liked the story about you being almost arrested for cat burglary! It is so interesting. I’m happy you chose to write about it and even more happy you told us. Thank you again for giving me that advice for writing!”
“You were great. My favorite part was when you talked about ‘finding money’ or Found Money. I am really enjoying your book Leapholes. P.S. You were Awesome!
[Note: My 4th novel was called "Found Money"].
From Jose H:
“I really like your speech. My favorite part is when you showed the [Powerpoint] slide with the laughing hyena.”
[Jose: That's my favorite part too!]
I liked it when you talked about Rosa Parks. She’s very interesting.”
“I like to write stories and one day I might even become an author too. I liked it when you came because I got to know what it is like to be an author. I was surprised to know how long it takes to write one book. I didn’t buy Leapholes but my teacher has it and I am definitely going to read it. Thank you for coming to my school.”
I could go on and on, but I won't. The pleasure was mine. And with these letters, it goes on and on.