Developing a love of reading and writing is so crucial in our schools today. Strategies should be in place all year long to foster this love, but in March, many schools place an extra special emphasis on the importance and love of reading. Our staff has always celebrated a Reading Week during the month of March. Every year we would also talk about having an author come to visit our school, and we finally decided to stop talking and make it happen. The process of selecting an author was tedious, as we believe in all staff having input in our decision making. Lists were drafted, books were bought and read, research on the cost of various authors was conducted.
The author we chose was Sue Stauffacher. No-one on staff had heard of her before our research began, but based on the fact that we could afford her, and the fact that her variety of published work would appeal to all of our students, fifth through eighth grade, we decided she was the best choice. Her books Harry Sue, Donuthead, and Donutheart have become very popular in our school!
I don't think anyone was as excited as I for this author visit. Authors are like rock stars to me. Even though I know it makes me sound incredibly geeky, the fact that I have interactions on Twitter with authors such as Laurie Halse Anderson, Neil Gaiman, and Meg Cabot is something I find incredibly cool and exciting! I wait in line at the Michigan Reading Conference every year to meet authors and have books signed. Now I was going to have the opportunity to spend the whole day with one!
A schedule was created so that Sue would present to our students in two different large groups. Her first presentation was to our 5th and 6th graders and then she repeated the presentation to 7th and 8th graders. Using a power point slide show that was mainly pictures, Sue had the students choose from different "chapters" of her presentation to allow students to determine the order of the information they heard. This kept her presentations very spontaneous and interesting.
In the afternoon, Sue led a small group of 20 students in some story brainstorming and prewriting. Sue also spoke with this group about where ideas come from. Many of the happenings in Sue's stories are snipped right from the headlines and she explained to students that "truth really is stranger than fiction." Sue also talked about the importance of revision in writing. She shared a scrapbook that has some of her prewriting for an upcoming picture book:And she shared her first hand-written draft of her novel, Harry Sue,as well as her a typed manuscript with the revisions suggested by her editor.
All of our students were gracious and kind. It was a fabulous day for us all. But it was an extremely special day for me. As lucky as I am to have the job I do, it is perks like this day that make me pinch myself sometimes. As hostess for the day, I had the pleasure of taking Sue to lunch and introducing her to a tiny glimpse of our local Amish culture. Sue is such a joy to spend time with, and we became so lost in our conversation that we were nearly late returning to school for her afternoon session! What had begun for me with a feeling of awe ended with the feeling of having met a true friend.
As an author, Sue writes books about characters that seem so real. Her stories are touching and sometimes a bit sad, but with just the right amount of humor that you know the characters are going to be ok, despite their troubles. Her writing style doesn't condescend to kids, but rather, it communicates to kids that they are capable and mature. This style also comes across in her presentations and in her face to face interactions with students. I could not have imagined a better experience.