An award-winning author visited The Brawley School on Thursday telling the eighth grade students currently reading her historical novel not to quit things they love just because they aren’t necessarily good at it.
Kerry O’Malley Cerra, author of the middle grade book, “Just a Drop of Water,” said she wasn’t a particularly good student but wanted to be an astronaut when she grew up.
Those dreams were quashed when a teacher said Cerra didn’t have the math or science grades to go into the space program. “But, what I wish I had known then was that you don’t have to be naturally good at something,” Cerra said. “You just have to love it enough to put that work in. I wish somebody had said that to me when I was thinking about being an astronaut.”
She may not have become an astronaut even with this advice, but Cerra said she never thought she would become an author either. “No matter what you feel today, it doesn’t define what you’re going to end up being,” Cerra said.
After leaving her teaching profession due to profound hearing loss, Cerra began writing a book based on her own experience living in the Coral Springs, Fla., town where some of of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists had lived prior to the attacks. Cerra writes how the FBI descended on the town and questioned close Muslim friends that caused Cerra to distrust people she had known for years. “To this day, I will always feel bad,” Cerra says about doubting these friends who had no involvement in the terrorist attacks.
Her book, which took six years to finish, became “Just a Drop of Water,” a fictional story of a 13-year-old boy who bears witness to the stunning ripple effects of the terrorist attacks in his hometown more than 1,000 miles from New York City.
Eighth grade students at Brawley are currently in the middle of reading this novel, said teacher Sally Webb. “I invited her to visit because I want my students to meet an author and be able to interact with this book in a more concrete way,” Webb said. “It is an amazing book with lots of layers in regards to 9/11, friendship, government and personal rights and responsibilities, and how our experiences shape our perspectives.”
The visit included a question and answer period from the students and a book signing. Student Beckham Sears made a poster based on the book’s cover art to welcome Cerra to the school. “I wanted to do it to show my appreciation,” said Sears.
Student Katie Noah, 14, said she had not really learned much about the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks until this novel. “I like it a lot,” Noah said of the book. “It’s very interesting.”
Cerra’s visit seemed to be a big hit with the students who crowded behind her to take a selfie. Her discussion had an educational component to it, as well, of course.
“I have lots of students who love to write, and I want them to have the opportunity to discuss with Kerry what it is like to be a published writer,” Webb said. “Also, these eighth graders have not been able to have any field trips or any relatively ‘normal’ middle school experiences since they have been at our school. This feels like a fun and authentic middle school experience that will have a positive impact on my students.”