Dear Governor Ducey,

I’m in California on a book tour. It’s been pretty awesome. I find it so surprising when people actually show up to listen to me talk about books and read from those books. Do you know where I’ve never read? Phoenix. That’s weird. But California has been awesome. Book Soup is a great bookstore on Sunset Boulevard. My kids came, and my friends and their kids came. It would have been a full audience with just family and friends. But also a student from Grand Valley State University, where I worked for two years before I was hired at NAU, Juliet, who is a freelance writer in Los Angeles, came. My friend Aaron Sanders, who Karen Renner, my colleague and writer-in-residence at the Flagstaff City-Coconino County Library, both know, came. And most surprising? Strangers. And they each bought a book.

LA is full of people. Later, we went to Monterey, which is smaller, like Flagstaff, although instead of set in a sea of Ponderosa trees, it’s set in a sea of California humans. The kids and I brought our bikes to ride along the shore. We saw regular, live, sea otters in the ocean, holding kelp to float on top of the waves. We rode our bikes again that morning and went to the aquarium, because are you allowed to not go to that famous place? We traveled to University of California, Davis, where we rode our bikes through the arboretum, to downtown and out to a farm where we had hoped to buy cherries but instead found condos where the farm once was. Next stop: Napa, which is not as fancy as it sounds. I read at the Napa library. My friend and former undergrad, Max Stanley, came all the way from San Francisco. He said to say hi to Karen when I saw her. Hi, KR! And my colleague and dearest friend, Ann, and her husband, Blues Hall of Famer that he is, came. I had stacked the audience with my family and in-laws so the room wouldn’t read “empty.” The Napa Book Mine asked me to sign 20 copies of my books. I sold books to my friends at the reading, but the strangers weren’t buying. “Don’t worry,” Elena, the bookstore rep said, “They’ll buy them later. Readings are always a crapshoot.”

Readings are tricky. Audiences are hard to come by. Traveling for weeks on end is tough, but I am so very lucky to have friends and family fill the seats and buy the books. It’s a lot of pain in the butt for them.

My cousin, who came to Napa for the reading, is the librarian at an elementary school. Her school is Title 1 like my kids’ school. It’s interesting to hear how the issues facing California kids are not that different than those facing Arizona kids. It’s tricky trying to find the right audience to explain what kids need to learn best. I said, “What if every kid had an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) instead of those who just meet certain criteria?”

All kids are good at some things, and all kids are bad at some things. Sometimes, like at a book reading, kids will listen and be excited enough to want to get the whole book. Sometimes the kids will listen and really not be that into whatever the teacher is telling. As much as I believe that education should be equally accessible to every kid—property values shouldn’t determine how much money a school has—I believe every kid has their own individual learning needs. What’s cool is, every teacher, librarian, counselor, aide, administrative associate, principal, IEP designer, is also an individual. They are adept and changeable and able to make quick assessments of what would help a kid learn best. It’s like these little towns we’re visiting. We take some of our dreams—like the chance to ride our bikes everywhere—and then we adjust. Some places we can ride all day. Some places, we make short trips, but we adapt and try to make the experience as awesome as possible. We look out for each other. We try to be patient. We don’t make anyone take a standardized test. No one’s getting graded on this trip. And although the purpose of the traveling is to get the word out for the book, the real success is hanging out with individual people, learning new things.

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Nicole Walker is a professor at Northern Arizona University, and is the author of Quench Your Thirst with Salt and a collection of poems, This Noisy Egg. She edited, with Margot Singer, Bending Genre: Essays on Creative Nonfiction, and is the recipient of a fellowship from the National Endowment from the Arts. The thoughts expressed here are hers alone and not necessarily those of her employer. For more letters, visit www.nikwalk.blogspot.com.


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