Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Hope Was Here: Our Conversation with Joan Bauer

Having learned from a government official in Madison that mayoral elections in Wisconsin are always in the spring, and having read about the fall mayoral election in Hope Was Here, the students were eager to contact author Joan Bauer.  Our correspondence follows.  The emails have been slightly edited, and for privacy’s sake, specific names of students, teachers, and places have been eliminated.

From: Brian
To: Joan Bauer
Subject: The Election in Hope Was Here

Mrs. Bauer,

Our fourth and fifth grade class used Hope Was Here as the basis of our government project.  The reading teacher - me - would come in each day and read a chapter or two aloud.  The classroom teacher, Ms. B., would then follow up with lessons and research about campaigns, finances, taxes, issues, polls, or whatever election information was included in the book that day.

It was a wonderful unit, and as any great book will do, the discussions extended way beyond the intended subject matter.

To follow up we invited our local mayor to talk about her election experiences.  She told us that she was elected in the spring.  She was unsure, but she believed that mayoral elections throughout the state were held in the spring.

That got us to wondering, we did some digging, and here's what we learned.  Nonpartisan elections in the state of Wisconsin, including mayoral elections, are held in the spring.  A regularly scheduled election for mayor would never occur in the fall.  However, if there was a vacancy that occurred before June 1, the city's common council may order a special November election to fill the vacancy.

And now we have a bunch of questions.  Did you know that?  Did you choose to put the election in the fall anyway so it would better fit the plot?  Do you have any connection to Wisconsin?  If so, what?  And if not, why did you choose to send Hope and Addie to Wisconsin and not, say, Iowa?

Thank you for your time and for your wonderful book.  And please know we aren't trying to correct you or point out errors.  We are just genuinely curious.

Sincerely,
Brian Wilhorn and 23 interested 4th and 5th graders

Deep breath … wonder if everything is politely stated … another deep breath … and … click … SEND.  It took a week - and the longer it stretched, the more convinced I became that we’d just completely irritated a Newbery Honor winning author - but finally the response came.

From: Joan Bauer
To: Brian
Subject: RE: The Election in Hope Was Here

Dear Mr. Wilhorn --

Hello to you and your class.  I'm delighted to hear how you and your students have dug into HOPE WAS HERE.  What a great way for them to learn about government.  I'm impressed.  And, I must tell you, that I didn't know about the spring mayoral elections in Wisconsin.  I did a great deal of research about local politics, but I missed that one.  Thank you so much for letting me know.  Now, that brings me to the other part -- had I known, what would I have done?  I'm not sure because so much of the story takes place in the summer as Hope and Addie move to town.  I needed Hope not to be in school so I could show her full-out at the diner, and then there is the build-up of the election into the fall.  It would have been quite a challenge to change it to spring.  But all of this is fascinating to think about.

Thank you for digging down so deeply -- you are giving your kids a stupendous gift.  My best to you and your 23 interested 4th and 5th graders.

Here's to hope!
Joan Bauer

Do you know what an email like this can do to a room full of nine-, ten-, and eleven-year-olds?  Teachers, I’m sure you can imagine.  These students just learned that research can uncover information even an author missed.  They asked a question and successfully found the answer.  Maybe most significantly, they experienced the incredible feeling that comes when an important somebody takes the time to acknowledge and validate a child’s efforts.

From: Brian
To: Joan Bauer
Subject: RE: The Election in Hope Was Here

Dear Mrs. Bauer,

Our students loved learning that an author would respond so personally to their questions.  Thank you.

Would it be okay to share your response with others?  The mayor who spoke to our class was curious to know if we'd learn more after her visit, and the person I talked to at the Government Accountability Board, Elections Division in Madison was curious to know as well.

Finally, I hope our email didn't have a "Gotcha!" tone to it.  That was never the intention.

Thanks again for a wonderful book, the gracious response, and your willingness to share with students in a little Wisconsin town 1/10 the size of Mulhoney.

Brian

Our second response was quick in coming, and it was every bit as gracious and kind as the first.

From: Joan Bauer
To: Brian
Subject: RE: The Election in Hope Was Here

Dear Brian --

Please share this response -- I think it's wonderful that your mayor and other government officials are interested.  It just makes me realize how right it was for me to put Hope and Addie in Wisconsin.  And as for your concern about a "gotcha" -- I truly didn't feel that at all, so please don't worry.  I'm delighted by your enthusiasm and impressed by how you brought so many facets of the book to life.  One interesting thing that's happened with HOPE WAS HERE is that the State Department translated the story into Russian after I visited the country of Kazakhstan a few years ago.  And now it's being circulated in both Kazakhstan and Russian.  HOPE has been translated into many languages, but the Russian edition has special meaning for me.  In case your kids are interested, the Russian word for hope is (I'll spell this out phonetically) na*deer*ja.

Warmest wishes,
Joan

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