Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Foreign Foods in Far Off Lands

I suppose that Vermont doesn't really count as a far-off land.
An eggplant calzone probably doesn't really even count as foreign food either, but a post titled "Eggplant Calzone in Vermont" simply didn't have the right ring to it.

Part of my job as an author and illustrator is to visit schools and talk to kids about writing and illustrating books. I enjoy this part of my job immensely as it gives me the dual pleasures of being able to visit lots of different places and pay my mortgage.

I don't write about too many of my school visits, but that's simply because so few of them involve eggplant calzones or the coveted Green Slime Ribbon.

Yesterday's visit to Central Elementary School in Bellow's Falls, Vermont included both.

Kate Kane, the wonderful librarian who arranged my visit, lured me westward with promises of eggplant calzone for lunch. I was unaware, however, that I would have to pass a series of tests before being allowed that lunch.

The Connecticut River, the moat-like border that keeps Vermont from invading New Hampshire, was my first test. Sybil, the annoying voice who yells at me from my GPS, tried to convince me to drive across a bridge that was no longer there. I did manage to find a non-aquatic crossing point and was allowed to enter Vermont. Sybil was irate and refused to speak to me for the rest of the ride. I managed to find the school without her.

That challenge surmounted, I was next tested with finding a parking spot at the school where–to be delicate–parking is at a premium. When eggplant calzones are involved, there is no challenge I will not meet. I found a parking spot and strode triumphantly into the school. Ms. Kane greeted me enthusiastically.

"Where is my eggplant calzone?" I demanded.

She smiled, ignored my demand, and took me on a tour of the school. It was enough to wipe all thoughts off eggplant from my mind. Everywhere we went, children gaped and stared and whispered, "That's Martykelley!" "Is that Martykelley?" "Hey! Look! Martykelley!"

It made me feel all famous and stuff.

Ms. Kane had obviously done her work getting the kids ready for my visit.

My tour included many points of interest, such as the bulletin board rebutting my book, Summer Stinks.
And, although the kids did manage to come up with some compelling arguments, I still do not agree with them. Summer still stinks.

Next on the tour was the wall covered with messy desks drawings.

There were some truly inspired pieces of art displayed here.

I was flattered and humbled by how much effort and hard work had obviously gone into preparing for this visit.

"So where is my eggplant calzone?" I asked again.

Ms. Kane smiled and presented me with my next challenge: "You must judge the messy desk pictures. It was a contest to create the messiest desk. The winners will be awarded the coveted 'Green Slime Ribbon' award."

I strolled up and down the hall, my mind weighted with this heavy responsibility. It was a very hard decision, but I was eventually able to choose three favorites.

I chose Wyatt's because he included, among the detritus in his desk, a bottle of "Stress Reliever". This kid is obviously a future teacher.

Carver's desk had a brilliant attention to detail that I couldn't help but admire. The scope of junk he included in the desk was awe-inspiring.

And, lastly, Andy's desk went straight to the heart of humor. He didn't bother with subtlety. His desk was filled entirely with underpants of every imaginable cut and style. He also included the caption, "Now which one is my underwear?" implying that there are undies from many people in that desk.

"I have judged the desks, Ms. Kane," I cried, "Now where is my eggplant calzone?"

"It's only 8:15, Martykelley," she answered, "You have presentations to do now. And, we have one more contest for you to judge."

There had been an ongoing Martykelley trivia contest at the school last week. Every student who correctly answered every daily trivia question about me was entered into a drawing to win a free, autographed book by... ME!

Some kids, I was told, had spent many, many hours studying for the Martykelley trivia questions, poring over my website for hours each night. I am hoping that I will soon become a part of the regular curriculum in Vermont schools.

My part in this contest was relatively easy. I merely had to draw the winning name from a basket.

After drawing the name, I gave my first three presentations, the thought of my eggplant calzone looming large in my mind throughout. At the end of the third presentation, my mouth was watering and my stomach was gurgling. But the fourth graders were not returning to their classes. "Go away!" I wailed, "I want my lunch!"

But the fourth graders had other things in mind.


They had created an amazing song to share with me. They had taken the Super Cool Punk Rock Version of Summer Stinks and rewritten it to accompany their bulletin board rebuttal of my book.

Their version, Summer is Stupendous, was incredible. They rewrote the entire song and recorded it and it was amazing. I'm sure that they will all grow to become famous rock stars and I will be jealous. You can check out their website and click on a link to hear the song here. (Because I can't figure out how to post the song on my blog...) It was excellent enough to make me forget about lunch.


When they returned to their rooms, I threw myself at Ms. Kane's feet. "Now may I please have my eggplant calzone?" I begged.

"You may," she answered, "But you will have to eat it... IN THE CAFETERIA WITH THE STUDENTS!!!"

There is no obstacle I will not conquer for an eggplant calzone, but surely, this would be my greatest test.

A lunchroom full of kids eating is, at its best, not the most relaxing place to enjoy a quiet lunch.

I timidly opened the doors, clutching my precious, well-earned lunch, and was greeted with a thunderous "IT'S MARTYKELLEY!!!!!! SIT WITH US!SIT WITH US!SIT WITH US!SIT WITH US!SIT WITH US!SIT WITH US!SIT WITH US!"

Ms. Kane cleverly blocked the exit and I made my way to a table to eat.

I enjoyed myself immensely at lunch, primarily because I was able to taunt the kids with my delicious lunch.

"Oh," I'd say, "How are your canned beans? Because my eggplant calzone is DELICIOUS!!"

We chatted of this and that, the primary topic of conversation seeing to be "How old are you?" Many of the kids were kind enough to inform me that I am much, much older than their parents.

And too soon, lunch was over. I had managed, through great personal willpower, to reserve one last hunk of calzone for later. I returned to the library for my last presentation.

When my day was through, I packed up and thanked Ms. Kane for a wonderful day. I grabbed my stuff and tucked the eggplant calzone away safely so I could enjoy it when I returned home.

The calzone's delicate scent wafted through the car and gave me the strength to carry on even when Sybil, my evil GPS, tried once again to send me plunging into the river.

I finally arrived home and while I was telling Kerri about my amazing day in Vermont, she ate my leftover calzone.

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