They were an arm's reach away from the candy at my table. The four of them were a perfectly synchronized team, eyes never wavering from the Jolly Rancher bowl, waiting for my attention to be diverted.
I've always loved a challenge. "Are you guys in high school?" I smiled at the shortest one, but she right away deferred to the group leader who had her hand hovering, one step closer to the bowl, poised and ready. The Hudson Book Festival was in full swing and there were plenty of shiny objects to steer them away.
The leader nodded quickly toward the two on the end. "They're in seventh." She elbowed her second in command and edged ever-so-slightly closer. "We're in ninth."
I decided I'd better make my move, seeing as I was quite obviously on borrowed time.
"What kind of books do you like?" I tried to make eye contact with the Alpha.
She gave me a you-must-be-crazy snort and spoke for the group. "We don't like books."
Then what are you doing at a book festival? My inside voice shouted.
I wanted to grab the leader's iPod and surreptitiously download an audio book, but I knew there was no time.
Reinforcements were needed. I searched out Walter Dean Myers on the other side of the room, wondering if I could beam an emergency mental message over to him. Maybe he could leave his table and perform an intervention of sorts.
As the new National Ambassador for Young People's Literature, his platform is straightforward and no-nonsense. "Reading is not optional."
Even though it seems like such a simple statement, it motivated me to try harder. Getting a book in a child or a teen's hands is a duty that belongs to all of us--as teachers, as parents, as writers ... as interested and interesting people. Walter Dean Myers says that "people who read well earn more, have more rewarding lives, and pass on their skills to their families."
I decided to try again with the Alpha. "I'll bet you have a book--one book--that you liked."
One of the seventh graders rolled her eyes at her. "You don't like nothin', unless it's about love."
My books are realistic fiction. Maybe that wasn't their thing. "How about fantasy? Have you read Watersmeet? I pointed toward my friend, Ellen Jensen Abbott, a couple of tables down. "There's even a sequel. And I think there might be some love."
The other seventh grader did a quick candy scan of Ellen's table.
I pointed next to me. "How about Danielle Joseph? She has a new book out. And her first one was made into a movie. Definitely some love in that one."
The movie part got a half a raised eyebrow.
Then the leader gave an almost imperceptible nod and they moved on.
I sighed. I didn't know how they'd done it, but my candy bowl was completely empty when they left. But then I had a silver lining moment. What the ReadingRebels didn't know, was that I had purchased those Jolly Ranchers the day before at the dollar store. Who knew how old they were? Maybe there'd be time for them to read when they were on their respective couches, recovering from their triple root canals.
I couldn't be sure, but around 3:30 that afternoon, I thought I caught another glimpse of them. One of the seventh graders had something under her arm.
And I think it might have been a book.