Brace yourself, my book tour was long and so is this post. (But fun!)

In a little over a month, I read at ten bookstores and libraries, gave 17 school presentations and 4 skype sessions, and I think it went great. I planned the events myself, and most of the school visits were arranged by bookstores. NONE of it would have been possible without a very, very long list of generous, loving friends, energetic librarians and teachers, my supportive agents, several amazing independent bookstore “families”, and my own family. And I owe countless kisses and hugs to Tulsi, who was my sweet-n-steady compadre.

After a rockin’ first event in Taos at Twirl Toystore with my parents, friends and masala chai, we hit the road. Here are some highlights and lessons learned:

– It’s best to set up events where you have friends or family! (for me, Taos, Boulder, KC, Omaha, and St. Louis)

– Choosing scenic towns for events is a NICE balance to bigger cities. Durango and Boulder were peaceful yet funky, inspiring places with interesting people (and some of the best hiking!)

– A Two-author event is GREAT energy, draws good crowds, and it takes a lot of pressure off sharing the spotlight. Maria’s Bookshop in Durango, CO invited Uma Krishnaswami and I to do a joint storyhour for our new books. Uma’s YA novel, The Grand Plan To Fix Everything (a sparkly, whimsical tale about two friends in the US and India), and Same, Same but Different, complimented each other perfectly. They were, um, same, same but different. :) It is also interesting and helpful to watch how other authors/illustrators present. Uma baked samosas and Patrick brewed up some masala kid-chai — a fabulous and a sweet detail to the day.

– It’s natural to be ambitious and want to “do” all these things for events (craft, bake treats, brew chai, show slides, etc.), but really, it’s just too much (on my own) and events go by so quickly. It was fun to mix it up and try different things, but when I finally let go of trying to do so much, I felt more energetic and had more fun.

– I laughed when I walked into the Boulder Bookstore and saw my book/photo side-by-side with Jon Scieszka! He’s been an inspiration to me for years, and he’s currently the US Ambassador of Children’s Books! I was bummed we couldn’t stay for his talk as I had another event in Denver.

– Sometimes you’ll have huge crowds and sell out of books, other events might be a few people, but if you go with an attitude of simply wanting to share and connect with others, then every one will be worth it! One REALLY sweet reading was at a library in Omaha with two families and 4 kids!

– If you don’t know, I lived in Kansas City, MO for 9 years and have incredibly dear friends from school and my Hallmark days. Another huge lure to KC — my favorite kids bookstore of all time is there: Reading Reptile, created and nourished by Deb and Pete Cowdin and their five children. It is a wild, free-spirited, dream world with secret passageways and an amazing book selection to feed your soul.

– I was pretty giddy when we walked in the store and saw this display. Thank you to all my friends who filled the store that night and left Pete with empty shelves, and me with a FULL heart.  (And thanks especially to Debbie and Laura and Laura who entertained Tulsi while I showed slides and read and signed books!

– Tulsi kept yelling out names of her favorite books and book-characters sculpted larger than life from glossy-painted paper mache. Max! Hungry Caterpillar! The man with caps! To this SWEET girl at the bottom, she shouted, “FORTUNE COOKIES!” — a newish book we adore, by RR’s own Albert Bitterman (aka Pete Cowdin), illustrated by Chris Raschka!

How I’d love to have a paper mache character from one of my books roaming their store some day :) Hmmm…I’m smiling remembering this one from my sister’s school a few years ago (that is still hanging at the school!)

– Another highlight was visiting my sister and her family in Omaha. We live far away, so I treasure every time we get together. She is not only the best big sister and friend, but she is a huge support.  Her school gifted over 200 books to students with perfect-attendance!! Many of the kids are from Mexico, and English is their second language, so I think they related to the book in a unique way. Tulsi and I spent a day at their school visiting with the kids and signing books. How awesome is this photo?!

– While in Omaha, I teamed up with my pal Laura Huliska-Beith for storyhour at The Bookworm. Laura and I have been friends since she was my supervisor at Hallmark and we were in a children’s book writing group together. I am a big fan of Laura’s art and books, and again, I LOVED the energy of a two-author, two-book event! She read The Adventures of Granny Clearwater by Kimberly Willis Holt, that she illustrated with fabrics, stitching and collage (AWESOME, btw).

– Laura had given me advice (prior to my tour) to read like I do with Tulsi at home (spontaneous conversation, etc., mixed in) and with each event, I relaxed and the book became more alive. I played with adding props (bells and musical instruments), animal calls (in English and Hindi! and sometimes Spanish at schools), memories from my travels, bindis, sarees (Indian dresses) and questions. All of this made the reading interactive and playful.

– Another stop was my hometown of St. Louis during the week of the World Series. I’m still thankful that the Cardinals won (so folks were in a grand mood) AND my event landed on a no-game day! It was pretty dreamy reading my book to a huge crowd filled with my parents, family, cousins, aunties, uncles, my highschool art and creative writing teachers (and their families), and loads of friends from gradeschool, highschool and summer camp — AND, all of their kiddos! I really loved the one-on-one visits with everyone while signing books.

– My friend Kerry, who was a camp counselor with me years ago, came with her partner Heena (from India) and their daughter Neah. It nearly made me cry when Heena stood up after I read and said how much she loved the book and captured the spirit of India (and that I sung the alphabet perfectly)! What a compliment coming from a Native of India. I also loved hearing Heena and Neah speaking Hindi!

– Many independent bookstores will arrange school visits for authors and illustrators. I visited with groups as small as 25 and as large as 350. (I prefer 25-60 student range as it’s more intimate.) Alexis O’Neill has a treasure blog of advice that helped me prepare! She is so generous with sharing her experiences. I’ll be revisiting her blog again and again. Below is a picture Jessica made me after I visited her school in St. Louis.

– All of my school visits were so unique! One especially memorable day was at the United Nations International School in NYC. I visited with 250 kids in grades K-2nd that represented 98 different countries in the world! Think about it some more. There are only ‘about’ 195 countries in the world — Read more about the actual number here. UNIS was magical and bursting with joy. I heard many languages in the hallways. Every teacher I met was from another country. In every grade, there were kids born in India or who were Indian and sang the Hindi alphabet with me! Some students had Nepali nannies. And the kids had this worldly spirit that glowed on all of their faces. I just LOVED meeting each of them and asking, “Where are you from?” The kids really grooved on Same, Same but Different, too. After all, they LIVE it, every day, mixed togethe and celebrating ALL of their unique cultures, talents and loves. The kids were full of energy and curiosity and peace. I felt incredibly honored to be their guest. When I meet kids, I love imagining how each of them will positively contribute to the world someday.

Tulsi and I are super happy to be home now. The tour was a TON of work and quite exhausting, but it was rewarding in way more ways (as you can see).