Such a thing had never happened before – a magician was coming to perform at my elementary school in Central Florida. The staticky squawk box next to the classroom clock ramped up the excitement during morning announcements for months ahead of time. A REAL magician was coming to our school. A grown-up who KNEW MAGIC. And you had to earn the privilege to attend. I’d never behaved better. (Ish.)
And then the day came. It was a small stage, close-up act in the library (before they were called media centers). Audience members were selected to participate. Coins clanged out of ears! Silken handkerchiefs circled the room in infinite loops. A rabbit (a REAL LIFE FREAKING RABBIT) hippity-hopped from a magic hat.
And I got kicked out halfway through the show.
Apparently one is not supposed to scream “ENCORE” at the top of one’s lungs after every single illusion. I think I was seven. How was I supposed to know? I was mortified; confused. I honestly thought that’s what you did when the world expanded in front of your eyes. When IMPOSSIBLE was proven FALSE. When a grown-up in a cape made MAGIC both real and attainable with a flick of the wrist.
My little heart beat out of my chest. No amount of explanation or apology would get me back into that show. It was too late. But I had glimpsed one of life’s great secrets. I knew that a world existed beyond the cow pastures and orange groves (and racism and bigotry) of my little hometown.
The first real author I ever met was (now Caldecott recipient) Dan Santat. It was at an SCBWI conference in Orlando. He had just a couple of books out at the time, and I had a portfolio full of black and white illustrations that needed lots of work. And just like the magician who visited my elementary school, Dan represented a world whose existence I doubted. He sat with me, looked at my portfolio, and gave me advice on becoming an author/illustrator. The magic was real. And attainable. I just had to work for it.
And to me, that’s the point of bringing authors, musicians, performers, and yes, magicians to your schools. When kids see and hear from a REAL LIFE grown-up that the improbable is in fact quite possible, MAGICAL things happen. Kids sharing a sense of awe see each other’s eyes light up across the room. Kinship is formed. Attitudes change. Bullies explore kindness. Racial and religious walls begin to crack and crumble.
Show a kid that they aren’t stuck within the only world they’ve ever known, and they might take a step toward a different life. One step might lead to two. And one day you might see them achieving what you thought impossible.
More info on booking Fred Koehler for your school at this post…