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A Valentine for Young Writers

Author Andrea Patten shares her experience as a presenter in the AIBF Authors In Schools Literacy Program.

Valentine’s Day was a little unusual for me this year. The Amelia Island Book Festival chose The Inner Critic Advantage as a book for a group of high school students—and I got to spend the day with them. After years of other sorts of festival participation, I was finally an Author in Schools!

To say I was excited is an understatement. A few days before the event I wrote about it on my blog. “As I sit here making notes for that event, I feel full of gratitude and love for 200 high school first years I’ve not yet met. I wonder about how best to make meaningful connections and think back to some of the big groups I’ve worked with. Although high school was a very long time ago, I remember it as a very unsettled time with concerns ranging from boyfriends to big world issues, home room to hormones. Everything is up in the air. I want to be sure to acknowledge their concerns while sharing lots of love. It’s an opportunity to share love of literacy, love of kids, and, of course, strategies to love those inner critics.”

My teen time started back in December when I got to be a judge for their short story contest. The theme they were given was "Once Upon a Time" and they really rose to the occasion. In keeping with the fairy tale theme, stories ranged from silly and frothy to twisted and dark. But even more impressive was their creativity and courage to try.

The next stop on my AIBF teen tour was a conversation with the media specialist at the school to which I’d been assigned. My heart warmed when she told me she had been looking for a short, uplifting book to share with their HOPE classes. Required of first year students, this curriculum combines health concepts and skills with physical education with the intention of supporting safe and healthy choices. Some topics covered included first aid, nutrition, mental health and bullying, alcohol-tobacco-drug prevention, and Internet safety. My heart broke when she told me some of the harrowing stories their school community had recently faced and warmed again when I thought about the opportunity to bring them some tools.

But, before I could do that there was a stop at the Teen and Tween Scene—an after-school event coinciding with the festival’s opening day. I was assigned to a program at the far end of the county. Two quick back-to-back sessions flew by as we brought game-show energy to a wild and wooly Q&A session. The best part? Two of the kids in my group had entered the short story contest—one was the winner for her age group and the other had a story that I remembered from my first-round reading.

Finally, Authors in Schools day arrived. Four 90-minute presentations to HOPE classes. I think we were in the gym. I forgot to ask—I was too busy soaking in these amazing kids. There were questions about writing and about where ideas come from. We talked about fight or flight reactions and about how helpful it might be to have others recognize that state. Stresses. Fears. Trying stuff. Taking chances. Asking for help when we need it. Class blocks flew by and the students seemed to enjoy the discussion.

[image: Andrea Patten with fellow author Annette Laing at local high school]

And me? I got to pass up and down the rows of desks, share some candy, and ask almost 200 beautiful high schoolers if they would be my Valentine. It doesn’t get any better.


Andrea Patten is author of What Kids Need to Succeed, and The Inner Critic Advantage. She is also co-founder of Amelia Indie Authors, a co-op for writers serious about their craft.


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