But that all changed June 12 when 49 people were killed doing what I had always done in Orlando—having fun. I cannot describe to you the pall of sadness I felt when I woke up that next morning. I had spent June 11 teaching an all-day seminar on writing chapter books with one of my dearest friends, and we were rewarding ourselves on the 12th with a trip to the Magic Kingdom. And although we went on rides and tried to stay upbeat, the surreal experience of being on a boat with the Pirates of the Caribbean, only to check our phones when we got off, searching for news of any kind, was simply the strangest juxtaposition I have ever experienced. What a strange juxtaposition—people had just been killed for living their lives, for loving who they chose to love, and here we were going on rides. Survivors guilt—most definitely.
What a world. That’s the thought that went through my head all day. And still does. What kind of world are we leaving our children? What will future generations say about people who let such hatred fester and then hand out guns like candy? What are the scars that are being left on our children’s souls as they wake up every day to news of another shooting or bombing? I know that old hippie spirit is still alive in me because I just want to protect the children of the world from all that is evil out there. (Okay, cue the tape: “I’d hammer out danger, I’d hammer out a warning. I’d hammer out love between my brothers and my sisters. All over this land.”)
But it was my second trip to Orlando, this past weekend, that actually gave me hope. Signing at the ALA convention with my co-author--my daughter-- I met so many people who wanted to give the next generation something more than what is out there today. Librarians are heroes. Yes heroes. And you know why? Because they are on the front lines opening children’s minds to possibilities of a better world. They are providing kids with books that will introduce them to other cultures, so that they do not seem so scary. They are providing kids with books that say it is okay to be who you are—and love who you want to love. They are providing kids with alternatives. Best of all, they are providing kids with a chance to get away from the troubles of the real world even if it’s just for a few hours spent under a tree or under the covers, reading.
I cannot tell you how proud I was to sign books for librarians—especially because I was signing with my own kid. It was amazing to welcome Amanda into the writing world and to see her interacting with kids who are now reading our books. My kid is a kid magnet.
When I write with Amanda, she is constantly reminding me not to make the bullies too mean or to allow the characters to use words like stupid or fat because she fears the behavior will be copied. Amanda and I are creating our own world in our Project Droid books—and it is a world that is safe, funny, a little predictable, and most definitely wacky. Kind of like us. Amanda, like the librarians we met at the ALA convention, gives me hope that the next generation may just be ready to stop the hatred and anger, despite what we’ve heard certain politicians spew from their podiums in recent months.
Rest assured, I will go back to Orlando. I will go to the parks. I will laugh again. We all will. We all have to.
But we will never forget.