Mr. Harrison was my grade five teacher.

He was tall and handsome with chocolate brown hair that swept across his forehead and he was cool and funny.

All the kids loved him and wanted to be like him.

And when he was on yard duty we all hovered around him hoping some of his coolness would rub off on us.

There was a particular incident that occurred when I was in grade five and following him around as he did his rounds that I reference in my Coming to Canada/A New Life presentation.

It’s funny how popular the presentation has become. Used to be that The Roses in My Carpets was by far the most popular. Now I’d have to say it’s a tie between Picture the Story and Coming to Canada/A New Life.

I guess it’s also relevant that immigration and some of the themes in Coming to Canada are pertinent to curriculum in junior grades.

Anyway, it’s very important to really observe the people around you and what’s happening.

I think if you want to be a writer, you need to be a student of human nature.

It’s often the case that kids will hang back after they’ve been dismissed from my presentation.

On Thursday I was doing a school that didn’t have a lot of brown kids. They were mostly white. Honestly though, I sometimes feel as if it’s MORE important to be going to these kinds of schools.

Anyway, I finished the first Coming to Canada presentation for the grades 3 and 4 and a bunch of the kids crowded around me, asking questions, but some of them didn’t have questions, they were just standing there with their friends.

Fine, that’s normal, and didn’t think much of it.

But then after the second Coming to Canada presentation in which I talked to the grades 5 and 6, we were coming to the end of the presentation and I asked the teachers if there was any time for questions. One of the teachers said, “We’ll make time.”

And then one of the teachers asked me an excellent question. He’d read The Roses in My Carpets to his kids, in preparation of my visit, and yet  I had referenced some of my more humorous stories, including Fajr in Muslim Child. He asked, “Is it harder to write a serious social activist kind of story or is it harder to write a humorous story?”


I’d never been asked that before!

It’s funny because usually the questions are always the same. After sixteen years of doing presentations I’ve heard most of them!

And I told him, “It just depends. I write each story because that’s what I need to write. If it’s funny or sad. Doesn’t matter. It just has to work.”

So then I asked if there were any more questions. There were no hands up, so I started wrapping up, and then a bunch of the kids stuck their hands up, so I answered some more questions.

But finally it came time for them to be dismissed and I turned around and started packing up my books. But four girls had stayed behind.

Oh they were so cute! One Asian, two white and I think a brown girl, all four tall, slender and cute.

Just standing there watching me pack up, with big grins on their faces.

I asked, “So do you girls have any more questions?”

They kind of did a double take and one of them posed a question but it was pretty innocuous. I went back to packing up the books. And they were still standing there, with smiles on their faces watching me. Just grinning and watching, not really needing to say anything and that’s when it occurred to me.

And I said, “Ohhh, I get it!”

They looked at me waiting to see what I’d say.

“This is like the Mr. Harrison thing right?”

And they started laughing.

“I’m the cool one though, and you’re hoping some of my coolness will rub off on you!”

And they laughed even harder.

It’s interesting to note that they didn’t deny it!

They didn’t affirm it either.

But they didn’t deny it!

We talked a bit more and then eventually they skipped out to experience what was left of recess.

I’m sure it was the case.

In fact I’ve noticed the phenomenon many times. After a speaker does a very good speech, something that moves people, there will be a group that comes up and just kind of mobs them. Not necessarily wanting to ask questions but just wanting to be close to the person. Physically close to them.

I know I’ve done that myself! It was instinctual. Didn’t know why I was even doing it!

But thinking back it makes me feel so strange, and blessed! That I can engage with a group of kids in such a way as to elicit such a response!

…And get paid for it!!