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Librarians And Authors Meet On Increasing Literacy
Local librarians meet with eight authors to generate ideas and discussion on how to increase student enthusiasm for reading and writing
Kristyn Crow, author of Skeleton Cat and Middle Kid Blues, warned that Utah’s kids could definitely fall into being included in “The Dumbest Generation” as coined by Mark Bauerlein in his book of the same title, if a love of reading and writing is not instilled during childhood and adolescence. As an author who not only writes in rhyme but also incorporates rhythm and music into her school presentations, she noted a recent study in Britain that found a link between rhyme and rhythm in picture books and higher fluency rates and test scores. “For a while, picture book authors like me were worried about the so-called ‘death of the picture book’ because so many headlines were reporting a loss of picture book popularity in part because parents were thinking they’d make their kids smarter by getting them into chapter books right away,” she said. “Thankfully, with studies like this one, we are starting to see that the picture book really is important, and publishers are responding.”
Other authors each took time to showcase samples of their workshops that not only focus on writing techniques but also on how reading and writing can be, or should be, an integral part of life. For example, Amber Argyle (Witch Song) adds an inspirational workshop about overcoming hardship to her plotting classes. Kristin Chandler (Wolves, Boys, and Other Things That Might Kill Me) incorporates ideas on how one’s personal interests outside of reading, like fishing, can be tapped into when using the senses in writing. Kristen Landon’s workshop on characterization includes inspirational activities that focus on “need versus want,” which ties into the plot of her book, The Limit; while Shaunda Wenger, who first stepped into publishing with The Book Lover’s Cookbook (Ballantine Books) before focusing on her own fiction (The Ghost in Me and Reality Bites) gives an interactive workshop that gets kids thinking about the qualities that make a book become an unforgettable favorite.
“Overall, author visits can be a powerful and easy tool for getting kids excited about reading and writing,” said Clint Johnson (Green Dragon Codex), who closed the meeting with tips on how librarians and teachers can make the most of an author visit. He pointed out that Mette Ivie Harrison (The Princess and the Snowbird), who also presented at the meeting, offers feedback on writing given to her by students who attend her workshops. “Authors who are brought into schools can be the cheerleaders for what teachers are trying to accomplish,”
Of course, most librarians and teachers realize this. Kimi Burbank, media specialist at Spring Creek Middle School, says “Students love author visits… and when I ask, ‘How many of you have ever thought of becoming an author,’ about one-third of the students will raise their hand. But with budget cuts, the reality is that it’s difficult to find the funds to bring an author to our school…. And with the increasing focus on core curriculum and testing, it’s hard to get everyone on board for pulling students out of classes for an assembly. So I look for authors who are affordable or free, who may be willing to spend a few hours with smaller groups of students that come into the library for the presentations by choice, or who can piggyback their visit with other schools in the area.”
In response to budget constraints, agencies like the Utah Arts and Museums have been reaching out to schools, encouraging them to apply for grants (http://artsandmuseums.utah.gov/
With so many talented and award-winning authors available in the state, as well as a growing list of exciting newcomers like Daniel Coleman (Jabberwocky and Hatter, forthcoming from TM Publishing), librarians like Roat of CVLA hopes that the information provided at the January meeting will help keep the doors open to ideas, collaboration, and discussions on how librarians and teachers can continue to keep kids connected with books and the authors who write them.