I should have known she'd ask that

October 16, 2014 • Posted in blindness, book tour, Braille, questions kids ask, travel, Uncategorized, visiting libraries, visiting schools, Whitney, Writing for Children by

I have a children’s book published, but here’s a confession: I don’t know a whole lot about children’s literature. Not modern children’s literature, at least. I read a ton of books when I was little, but after I traded my children’s library card for one that got me into the adult section of the Elmhurst Public Library, I never looked back.

This means that when the Sheboygan Children’s Book Festival started touting the writers who’d be there last weekend, I didn’t recognize a single name. I just figured everyone on the list was like me: Midwesterners willing to travel to this out-of-the-way Wisconsin town to sell a few books and enjoy the quiet.

The organizers created trading cards for all the authors, including moi!

The organizers created trading cards for all the authors, including moi! The front’s above, back below

Boy, was I wrong.

The Sheboygan Children’s Book Festival is spearheaded by two retired children’s book librarians who volunteer their time to the festival, and every year these two dynamos manage to bring a few very highly-regarded children’s books and authors to small-town kids in Wisconsin. Here’s a sampling of just four of the 16 writers at the festival last weekend:

  • Kevin Henkes won a Caldecott Medal for Kitten’s First Full Moon and Newberry honors for two of his novels, Olive’s Ocean and The Year of Billy Miller
  • Blue Baliett wrote Chasing Vermeer and other mysteries for children that regularly appear on the New York Times best-seller’s list
  • Peter Brown won a Caldecott Medal for Creepy Carrots, and he came from Brooklyn to be at the festival
  • Raina Telgemeier traveled from Astoria, New York to be at the Sheboygan festival, and she has a graphic memoir called Smile that was named a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice.

So was I intimidated by all these famous writers? Heck no. I was impressed! Both with the fair organizers who got these writers to come, and the writers who took planes, trains and automobiles to get to Sheboygan.

And besides, who needs the New York Times or some fancy-schmancy medal? I’ve got a secret weapon: Whitney.

A volunteer driver chauffeured Whitney and me to visit small-town schools as part of the festival Friday, and at one school a starstruck boy approached to shake my hand. “You’re the first blind person I’ve ever met,” he said. When I took Whitney’s harness off at another school to let kids pet her, one girl crawled up on all fours. “I’m a Seeing Eye dog,” she said. Her friend was right behind, closing her eyes and grasping a belt loop for guidance.SheboyganTradingCardB

Our presentation the next morning was in a section of Bookworm Gardens dedicated to Helen Keller. the flowers and plants feel — and smell — sensational there. A six-year-old with visual impairments came to hear me speak, along with her brother and her parents. Maya is learning Braille at school, and she came up to the front to help me answer questions from the audience afterwards.

My favorite question from the entire festival came later. I sat on a panel about “Animal BFFs” and a woman in the audience wondered if losing my sight had heightened my sense of intuition.

“Whoa, I’ve never been asked that before!” I said, taking time to ponder. Do I? Sometimes I’m right about guessing which elevator will open first. Hmm. The other day I thought about Colleen, and when i got home there was a message from her on the answering machine. You think…and suddenly I realize I had my answer: no. if I’d had a good sense of intuition, I would have known she’d be asking that, and I would have been ready with a response!</p>

Bev On October 16, 2014 at 8:23 am

Love the trading card! What a great idea! This event was obviously organized by some very talented ppl!

bethfinke On October 16, 2014 at 5:08 pm

Yes! I loved handing them out at the festival, from the descriptions I got it sounds like they were really well designed. _____

Cheryl On October 16, 2014 at 9:01 am

Love this blog! Wish I had my own trading card so we could trade cards:)

bethfinke On October 16, 2014 at 5:09 pm

Hmmm. Wonder who chose your name for homemade Christmas….?


Doug Finke On October 16, 2014 at 9:05 am

Another good one. Funny, clever and upbeat.

bethfinke On October 16, 2014 at 5:11 pm

Maybe I was inspired by whoever it was who did those author trading cards. The designer had to have been funny, clever and upbeat!


annyrusk On October 16, 2014 at 9:41 am

What a fun adventure. Neat that the organizers are able to draw such talent so that the kids can be immersed in Kidlit, and some of it’s luminaries, for a weekend. Guessing small towns don’t mix it up with well-known authors that often..unless the author lives there.

Thanks for opening my eyes to this neat event.

Coolest part for me: You are a trading card now!

bethfinke On October 16, 2014 at 5:12 pm

Yup. Pretty dang cool to be a trading card.


Sheila A. Donovan On October 16, 2014 at 9:53 am

I would have loved to be in the audience with those adorable kids.I love all their questions, and their openmindedness.

bethfinke On October 16, 2014 at 5:13 pm

Yes, let’s hope their openmindedness is contagious.


Kate Hannigan On October 16, 2014 at 10:13 am

Nice post, Beth! And congratulations on being part of that book festival! You’re a rock star!

bethfinke On October 16, 2014 at 5:17 pm

Oh, I’m not so sure I’ve hit rock star status quite yet. When it comes to author trading cards, I’m pretty sure it still takes 4 Finkes to get 1 Henkes. just one you need


Monna Ray On October 16, 2014 at 12:48 pm


What a charming blog. You’re going to want to go back to Sheboygan.

I think you underestimate yourself. You are intuitive about a lot of things, like those who evidence disinterest about a classmate’s writing when it comes their turn to read. You’re so responsive that I often forget that you can’t see me.


bethfinke On October 16, 2014 at 5:19 pm

Is that intuition? I always thought it was just good listening skills! And you are so right: I’m going back to that part of Wisconsin again for sure. Lovely.


violynn333 On October 16, 2014 at 1:58 pm

You’re my advisor on all-things kid books! You know TONS. Like, just what to say that a person needs to hear 😉

bethfinke On October 16, 2014 at 5:20 pm

Well, now maybe *that’s* intuition.


ojdoherty On October 16, 2014 at 4:24 pm

Great question! Working with older students at the moment, I really miss the questions that the younger pupils ask.

bethfinke On October 16, 2014 at 5:22 pm

Yeah, but remember: my favorite question, the one about intuition, came from an *adult…


Jacqueline Houtman On October 18, 2014 at 7:59 am

The Sheboygan Children’s Book Festival is great. Well-organized, and they treat the authors very well. I did a talk at Bookworm Gardens one year, but it was pouring rain, so we moved it inside. (I had my eddy coil with me, and the thought of water and electricity didn’t sit well.)

bethfinke On October 18, 2014 at 9:34 pm

Agree. Sheboygan rocks. And hey, did you get an author trading card, too?


Jacqueline Houtman On October 19, 2014 at 8:35 am

No, they didn’t do trading cards that year. It’s a fun idea.

bethfinke On October 19, 2014 at 8:46 am

Rats. I was hoping we could trade. Maybe you’ll have to return to Sheboygan soon with your new book….


Loreli On October 20, 2014 at 7:41 am

Beth you underestimate yourself. Your book is great. Every year I read it with my second graders. I think they should all know about The Seeing Eye because we live so close. I am also a past puppy raiser and current club leader.
I too love the trading card idea. I would trade a Henkes for a Finke in a heartbeat.

bethfinke On October 20, 2014 at 7:53 am

Aw, shucks. A Henkes for a Finke? That is a high compliment! Hearing that you read my book to the kids is a high compliment as well, maybe next time we are out that way I can come visit your class — I love showing off my Seeing Eye dogs!


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