The night I discovered L.M. Elliott was a Woman
How to Make a Lifelong Friend at a Cocktail Party
In Vino Veritas
by guest blogger Denise Ousley-Exum
“That author you love is over there.”
“The WWII one. She’s over there.”
“See that woman who looks like a ballerina? That’s L.M. Elliott.”
I first encountered Elliott’s Under a War Torn Sky while preparing a summer YA Literature course for teams of language arts and social studies teachers. High interest historical fiction typically serves both classes well, and UWTS was no exception. Language arts teachers energetically recap the lives of Henry, Pierre, and Madame Gauloise as social studies teachers connect to the ideas inspired by a secret journey across France, true accounts of the French resistance, and the mechanics of flying a WWII era American bomber. Teachers and students alike are ignited by Elliott’s ability to marry high drama and history with uncompromising research. And I was on fire to share UWTS with as many readers as possible. I also used the novel for a popular authentic assessment demonstration, the Brown Bag Exam, where students connect objects and ideas to their reading. By the time we met in 2007, I’d book talked and shared UWTS multiple times. And the author was a woman? How had I missed that?
Back to the ballerina: It was the 2007 annual cocktail party for the Association on Literature for Adolescents (ALAN) and the ballroom was packed with teachers, librarians, authors, and publishers, YA enthusiasts all. Introverts far outnumber extroverts at such gatherings, so I finished my first, maybe second, glass of courage and headed to the writer. As an English teacher, authors are my rock stars and as I made my way across the ballroom, I had no plans for what I would say to him—whoa—her.
Here’s how I remember it:
“You’re a girl!”
This unique pickup line led—thankfully—to a lively conversation about gender dynamics in publishing (thank you, J.K., S.E., and E.L.), how students young and old connect to her novel, and a shared love of tables-for-two over crowded ballrooms. Enthusiasm and fangirling has grown into an authentic friendship, personal and professional, and we have had the pleasure of sharing the stage with Laurie Halse Anderson, Linda Rice, and other authors and enthusiasts engaged with high interest historical fiction.
And now we have Ginevra.
This week Laura, researcher Megan Behm, and I will be presenting on STEM to STEAM education at the National Council for Teachers of English annual convention in Minneapolis, MN. Ginevra, Leonardo, Brunelleschi and Renaissance-era Florence will frame our conversation as we encourage language arts teachers to bring the A in STEM to STEAM education. The first engineers were artists, after all.
Laura is still lovingly referred to as L.M. in my family and her initials pop up along with this photo on my phone. It’s the evening of our first meeting. Yes, L.M. Elliott is a woman, and what a woman she is.