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  • Costantia Manoli


Updated: Jan 28

Over the summer I recieved an invitation for the 50th Annual FAME conference in Orlando; as 'Tomatoes in My Lunchbox' is on the SSYRA Jr list, would I like to attend the conference to participate in a panel discussion and do a book signing?

YES! Of course I would!!!

Getting there from here (Cyprus!) seemed like a bit of a long-shot but I thought I'd give it a go and see if I could figure out a way to get there. In October I was a approved for a grant from the Cypriot Ministry of Culture to fund my travels (thanks Cyprus!) and so followed a flurry of activity to get passports renewed, visa applications and interviews in, tickets booked and child-care arranged! I really wasn't sure it would all come together until the last minute, but soon enough I found myself on the first of 3 planes heading towards Orlando. Then I missed my second flight due to delays and I missed the substitute flight I was booked on too (I may or may not have cried at the help desk!). At that point I had to make a decision: turn around and come back home or keep going in spite of the exhaustion and frustration...

Some 30 hours later - a bit worse for wear but very excited - I landed in Orlando! My first US trip in 15 years! I was so excited to be there that I FORGOT TO TAKE PHOTOS!!!!! I managed a single selfie just after registration on the first day and a shot of the last keynote speaker, the fabulous Mychal Threets (what a great speech! what a great guy!) on the last day - and that was it - I was too engaged in the experience itself to think about taking photos!

The whole thing was a wonderful whirlwind of author speed dating, panel discussions, book signings and so many other sessions happening at the same time. I loved meeting people who know and love 'Tomatoes...'. I loved hearing stories of how their students responded to the book and how it resonated with they themselves as adults too. I loved learning about the activities and discussions they drew out from the text... I even met a media specialist named Constantia (yes! really! slightly different spelling but essentially the same name! amazing, right?!).

I gained a lot from this experience and learnt so much about myself as a person and an author; the heart of the whole thing is this: book people are my people. ALL book people. I came away with even more love and admiration for the educators and media specialists who really are on the frontline battling book bans and ridiculous restrictions. These people want to get the right books into the hands of those who need them most and they do this with love and care and sometimes at great personal risk. It’s strange for us on the other side of the Atlantic to fully understand the dangers of book banning - it’s the stuff of dystopian fiction and yet, it’s happening and it’s very real. These people are heroes! I was welcomed with so much love for me and 'Tomatoes in My Lunchbox' I really did feel FAME-ous! Heartfelt thanks to all who made it great! x

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