Sunday, December 21, 2008
Just before Thanksgiving, I received a letter from First Lady Laura Bush, thanking me for participating in the 2008 National Book Festival. What struck me about the letter was that it spoke directly to the 30-minute speech I gave -- one of several dozen given throughout the day on the National Mall. Originally, I thought the First Lady probably didn't write it herself -- that she just signed it -- but I was told by her former personal speech writer Charlie Fern that Mrs. Bush works side-by-side with writers and takes the time to personalize correspondence herself. Her letter mentioned that the Pavilion I was in was overflowing with people who listened to my speech that September day. The story of a 12-year-old boy and a dog named Cujo brought the audience to tears at the Eighth Annual National Book Festival in Washington, D.C. Just retelling it brought me to tears as well. Cujo's is one of many stories in my book Pawprints of Katrina. I was one of 70 grateful authors, illustrators and poets invited to the weekend’s prestigious event, organized and sponsored by the Library of Congress and hosted by First Lady Laura Bush. I spent the weekend in the company of such authors, writers and poets as Salman Rushdie, Tiki Barber, Cokie Roberts, Kimberly Dozier, Jon Scieszka, Judith Viorst, Daniel Schorr, Bob Schieffer and Eleanor Clift. I spent time with Pauline Frommer, author with her father, Arthur, of Frommer's Travel Guides, because we share the same publisher -- John Wiley & Sons. We hung out in the Hospitality Pavilion with PJ Campbell and Keira Kordowski, in charge of events at Wiley, as we waited for our respective events to begin. All the writers ate breakfast in the State Dining Room in the East Wing of the White House. Afterward, Mrs. Bush went outside with us, on the White House steps, and a photographer took our photo (above; that's me, second row, fourth from the right wearing a white blouse with a Best Friends Animal Society logo). Having a book about the rescue of pets from Katrina included in the festival was special beyond words. And getting an acknowledgment, no matter our politics, from Laura Bush, who promotes reading through the Library of Congress, was the icing on the cake.