GARDINER — When Debra Butterfield heard author Gary Schmidt speak at a reading conference three years ago at the Augusta Civic Center, she knew she had to get him to speak at Gardiner’s middle school.

On Monday, the two-time Newbery Honor-winning author is scheduled to spend the day in Gardiner, telling stories and talking about the importance of stories and of literacy.

“I have always loved his books, and many of them are set in Maine,” said Butterfield, who has earned recognition for her work in being named Maine School Librarian of the Year. “He really speaks to the heart about what it means to be human. He has a passion for literacy and reading.”

Getting to this point was no easy task.

“We have a goal of having a major author visit every three years,” she said. That way, every student who completes middle school will have a chance to hear from a writer.

Butterfield said when she booked his appearance three years ago, there was no funding to pay for the visit, so fundraising ensued — school dances, Lula Roe clothing sales, grants from the Maine Humanities Council and the Onion Foundation and donations from the PTO.


“This will be a catalyst and a spark for students who do not now have a reading life,” she said. For Schmidt, such trips are a way for him to talk about the importance of stories.

On Friday, shortly after he concluded a day of programs at a school in Providence, Rhode Island, Schmidt said he was not a good reader when he was in school on Long Island in New York state, but that changed by middle school, thanks to his English teachers.

“They did encourage me to love stories and see how they could be engaging,” he said. “Stories are not escapes, but a way to understand the world around us.”

Stories, he said, have lost their role in daily life.

“All you have to do is listen to the news and politicians to see how language itself is being used in ways that are quite problematic. That’s not a political statement as much as an observation. What’s being left behind is using stories to engage each other in healthy ways.”

Just an hour earlier, he said, he was telling a story to an assembly of 500 seventh- and eighth-graders.


“They were silent as tombs because I was telling them a story. There were no bells, no whistles, nothing else going on,” he said. “It’s not that I’m a good storyteller. It’s novel to them.”

Schmidt, 61, teaches full time at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and has a schedule that allows him to travel on Fridays and Mondays. This month alone, he’s visiting New England, Florida, California and Utah.

Often, he said, the kids have read some of the books and they have questions.

“I’m hoping in Gardiner there will be something to engage them,” he said.

As part of preparing for this visit, Butterfield also has prepared the students. Some of the money that was raised has been spent on making Schmidt’s books available to students, and those who have completed reading challenges will have a chance to get Schmidt to sign a book for them.

The day will start with an assembly in the gymnasium at the middle school, which runs from 7:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. The day’s events including writing workshop and a chance for the staff at the high school and middle school to meet with Schmidt after the students go home.


“I want our students to see the face behind the books on the shelves,” Butterfield said. “The library is there to help cultivate a reading life forever. Our students are faced with so many distractions. They have complicated lives with challenges. This is putting a rock star author in the showcase, and it shows that literacy matters and this is important.

Butterfield said members of the community have been invited to the assembly and some spaces remain open. Those interested in attending can contact her via email, [email protected], by 6 p.m., Sunday to reserve a space.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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