Last week I spent four delightful days at the Miami Book Fair International. As one of over 350 authors invited to attend and present at the Fair, I was a very small fish in a very big pond. Some of my fellow fish included Kate DiCamillo, Carlos Fuentes, Nora Ephron, President George W. Bush, Toni DiTerlizzi, Robert Forbes, John Waters, Pat Conroy and Dave Barry, to name just a few. Talk about diversity! Going strong in its 27th year, the Book Fair celebrated Mexico on the occasion of the bicentennial of its independence as well as providing the usual fabulous array of speakers, workshops, school visits, storytelling, children’s activities, classes, exhibits, street fairs, food and entertainment. I am certain that I have left out something, but suffice it to say that in a weeklong event that comes with a 28 page program, there is something for everyone who loves books and the people who write them. As a children’s author of two zany poetry collections and a picture book story told backwards*, I was happy to be among them. My part in the program involved two days and four schools’ worth of school visits as well as a presentation at the Miami Dade College Wolfson Campus to a group of school children who were bused in for the occasion. In addition, due to the generous support of Publix Super Markets Charities, the first 50 children to each of the children’s authors’ presentations that Friday received a free copy of the author’s book. All told, I read my latest book The Bicklebys’ Birdbath 12 times and got a different reaction each time. Particularly impressive to me was the fact that after the reading in which the first 50 children received free books, I had the opportunity to autograph each child’s book. About half of the children wanted their books autographed for someone other than themselves.
So what does all of this have to do with Claude, a Florida city with a funny name, and the polite cucumber? One of the most frequently asked questions I get from schoolchildren is, “Where do the ideas for your books come from?” In the case of Bicklebys’ I honestly cannot remember except that the birdbath came first and the title came second because I am a lover of alliteration. The story was rewritten so many times that I forget exactly what my original tale was. However, I carry a notebook around with me at all times because you never know when that cartoon light bulb is going to go off over your head. My light bulb went off three times while I was out and about in southern Florida. Being a person who can’t get enough of funny sounding words, I was first intrigued passing by a sign for Leisure City while on my way to Pine Villa Elementary School. Leisure City? There must be a story there. Claude Pepper’s statue is very near to a statue of Christopher Columbus along the waterfront in downtown Miami and I just loved his name. And the burpless cucumber? I met him under a sign at the Knaus Berry Farm on my way to Homestead, Florida. A limerick about him began percolating all the way to my final fair school visit.
So whatever you do, don’t forget your notebook! A burpless cucumber is a terrible thing to waste.
Andrea Perry is the author of Here’s What You Do When You Can’t Find Your Shoe, The Snack Smasher, and The Bicklebys’ Birdbath.