A few months ago, an ELA teacher who works on the Turtle Mountain Chippewa Reservation in North Dakota got in touch with me. She wrote to tell me that she has used Flipped in the curriculum for years, with great success in engaging her at-risk students. She sent me photos, letters from students, and art. In return I sent her a big box of assorted books for her and her students. It included a copy of Runaway which she immediately took home and read.
During the next round of communication, I learned a lot more about her and the job she does. For 25 years she has commuted 40 miles each way to teach on this reservation, which is right up near the US/Canada border. It's a very rural, high poverty area, and a lot of her students live in housing projects based on government funding. Drug use and abuse are extremely high, and she deals with deaths of former students almost monthly, trending toward weekly, from incidents related to addiction. A lot of her students are raised by grandparents, relatives, foster homes, or live in the local shelter. She said that her students tend to thrive with reads that deal with the issues presented in Runaway, because they can relate directly.
Despite this bleak reality, one thing shined through her correspondence with sharp clarity: She loves her job. She loves the kids. She’s their cheerleader and champion, and she goes to work each day with a determination to pave a path away from the statistics that face her at-risk students.
You may have heard that I have a book coming out on September 5th. The title is Wild Bird and it’s the story of Wren Clemmens, an at-risk teen who gets sent away against her will to a wilderness therapy camp in the Utah desert. It has a Native American component to it because almost all wilderness therapy camps have one, and I wanted to make Wren’s experience as authentic as possible. (And to ensure the Native representation was done correctly, I worked with a sensitivity reader from the Southern Paiute Nation, which is featured in Wild Bird.)
What you probably haven’t heard (because I haven’t told anyone and the dates/times/places aren’t entirely cemented) is that my publisher is sending me on a West Coast tour when Wild Bird comes out. Mostly, I’ll be in Los Angeles, the Bay Area, and Seattle.
The publisher’s purpose in sending an author on tour is to help launch the book. To help sell the book. It’s very expensive to send authors on tour. Where they send them is tied to the return they expect/hope to get on their investment. They like to work with stores that have a good track record of smoothly run, well attended events, with good community outreach. It also helps if the store is in or near a big city, where multiple tour stops can be arranged from a single flight into that city.
Publishing is a business. One that has had to tighten its belt over the past decade to stay competitive. It doesn’t make financial sense for a publisher to send an author someplace where books won’t sell, or is too remote.
So I knew there was no chance that my publisher would add a tour stop to Turtle Mountain Chippewa Reservation. For one thing, being at the tippy-top of North Dakota, it’s nowhere near the West Coast, and the tour is specifically West Coast. For another thing, it’s, like, seventeen flights and a three-hour drive to get to the reservation. And, of course, the ELA teacher made clear that there's not a lot of money for discretionary things like, say, books.
And yet, I asked.
And to my astonishment, they said yes.
Well, actually, they said, “We think it’s a fabulous idea!”
It may be a business, but my publisher (Random House) has a heart!
And so, added to my tour stops this fall is Turtle Mountain Chippewa Reservation, where I will do my best to convey a message of hope, and encourage the students to find power through both reading and writing. I am so looking forward to meeting the students and staff there, and plan to do a lot of listening to them.
Meanwhile, I’ll post my tour dates and locations when they become official, which should be soon.
Thank you for checking in. I’ll see you in the comments!