Teaching Riverland

Over the past eight weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to be back in the classroom, talking to students in grades five through nine, plus — in a different way — to college students and workshop attendees.

(that’s me, the tiny figure to the bottom right of the giant screen!)

We’ve talked about becoming a writer, about revision, about writing scary stories and we’ve made (and deconstructed) monsters. We’ve discussed themes and metaphor, and looked at storytelling maps.

Jump to the Riverland Teaching Guide | Jump to the Request for a Visit Form

It’s been eye-opening, for a lot of reasons.

One, I realized immediately, even while swamped with launch-day nerves, how much I’d missed talking with students. My first visit, to St.s Robert and Joseph school, cemented that. I was their first-ever author visit, and the students had prepared so many questions! We talked about how long it takes a book to be published (some thought maybe a couple of months, reader, I expired), how many times I had to revise (LOTS), and whether I’d always known I was going to be a writer (yes, but I had a lot of self doubt too). Then we drew a story together, about an elephant who wanted to learn to slam-dunk. That was awesome.

I skyped with an after-school group in Atlanta about reading and marketing books. And I’ve checked in with several schools and libraries I met during National Read Aloud Day in the early spring.


I visited more schools, spoke in cafeterias and libraries, ran mini-workshops about story maps, and — along with 350 fifth graders straight out of standardized testing — built monsters using a democratic process of collaboration.

After teaching a fiction workshop in Utah (Futurescapes), I traveled to Denver for more readings with the Tattered Cover, stayed near the amazing Book Bar, and planned to visit two big middle schools. These visits had to be postponed due to school closures for student safety – an event no one wanted to have happening.


At the Takoma Park Library, I got to use some new tech, and met extraordinary librarians and their charges, and we all drew story maps together.

In Queens, I spoke with brilliant students at a community college about the importance of portal narratives in children’s literature, and about themes in my writing that I hadn’t quite realized were there (seriously, you must write that essay!)

So often, I get caught up in bookstore visits, which are wonderful and vibrant, and require a separate post — but my heart, as a former teacher, camp counselor, and general ham, is in the classroom. I’m really excited about the workshops and talks I have prepared, but I’m also really happy moving into a more fluid conversation based on student interest.


To all the teachers I’ve met this spring, and to those I’ll see in the fall, thank you for sharing your students with me, and for allowing me to share Riverland with them.

The official reading guide for Riverland is now available! — my publisher, Abrams Books — has done a gorgeous job with the material I developed alongside my friend and LAUSD 2014 Teacher of the Year, Kathryn Gullo, and fall school visits are filling up fast. If you are a T1 or local tri-state public school, or a community college, please let me know as I can make an extra effort to reach you.

If you’re interested in arranging a visit for the next year, please fill out the form below, and we’ll be in touch!

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