In elementary school I was the shy girl with buck teeth, skinny legs, and a freckled nose. I rarely spoke in class but I loved being there, loved learning. I suppose my schoolwork revealed more about me to my sixth grade teacher, Mr. Ball, than I revealed in my behavior day to day. Near the end of May 1963 Mr. Ball asked me to write the graduation speech for our class. I recoiled at the thought of standing in front of an auditorium full of people but he told me, “Just write it and we’ll see what happens after that.” I threw myself into the task, writing and rewriting feverishly. Finally I gave Mr. Ball what I’d produced. He miraculously gave me in return the confidence to read it from the stage. My mother wept, sitting in the audience. She said afterward, “I had no idea you could think like that, write like that.” Mr. Ball looked like the cat who’d swallowed the canary. He wore such a warm, wonderful, proud, mischievous smile that day. I am so grateful to him for the way he nurtured me in his classroom. Years later, after I’d won the Newbery Award, I found an opportunity to seek him out and thank him. When we reunited, once again I saw that glorious smile of his. He was the best.
And that sixth grade experience is the one that most likely influenced me to become a writer. Thank you so much for asking.