How to Care for Cactus

Authors Are People, Too!

Oh, bloggy friends, I have missed you! This year is kicking my behind! I had high hopes that I’d still be blogging with great regularity this year, but alas…between my 28 awesome fourth graders, the start of my PhD, and my incredible two-year-old daughter, time is an oh-so-precious commodity. By the time my little one makes it to bed at night, I. am. wiped. out. And then I usually have textbooks to read and papers to write. But not today.

Today, I wanted to share with you the very awesome author visit we had at my school.

Granted, it’s old news by now. It happened during the Decatur Book Festival on Labor Day weekend, which, by the way, is one of the coolest things you can do in the Atlanta area if you’re ever here for Labor Day. But my experience was cool enough that I still wanted to share…four weeks later…

Every year as part of the book festival, 1 or 2 children’s authors come and talk at our school. This year, the fourth graders got to listen to Chris Grabenstein. If you’re not familiar with him, you should seriously run, not walk, but run to get his new book, Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library.

This book is the story of Kyle Keeley, an avid game-player who wins a contest to spend the night in the new library built by master game-maker Luigi Lemoncello. As Kyle explores the library, however, he realizes that winning the contest was just the beginning, and a whole new game with high stakes, twists, and turns is starting. It reminds me a little of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and Roald Dahl is just one of many authors referenced in the book. It’s very clever, fast-paced, and entertaining. I started it as a read-aloud when we found out that Mr. Grabenstein was coming, and we seriously couldn’t put it down. It was one of those books where I’ve had multiple students go out and buy it on their own because they couldn’t handle waiting for us to read it in class. It’s way up there on my recommendation list.

Mr. Grabenstein definitely inspired the students as writers. He shared a lot about his writing process, but his overall message was to just let it flow without editing yourself. To illustrate that, he modeled writing a story for the students. Prior to starting, he gathered 5-6 random words that students had written on sticky notes. He stuck those in his back pocket. Then, he projected a crazy picture.

He explained the difference between a protagonist and an antagonist, and he encouraged students to “Ask yourself, ‘what if…?'” He said that there are always a few questions you need to think about when planning a story.
  • Who is this guy?
  • What does he want?
  • Where is he?
  • Who wants to stop him?
  • Why?
He then took student suggestions to answer those questions and plan his story.
Next, he had students come up with a starting sentence: “My face hurts,” and an ending sentence: “He ate radioactive iridium isotopes” so we would know when his story was starting and ending. And then he just started telling the story. It was hilarious! At various points throughout the story, he would pretend to be stuck and pull a word out of his back pocket, and no matter what it was, he just rolled with it. He has a background in improv comedy, so I suspect that helps. Still, it really hit home the message that you shouldn’t censor yourself while you’re drafting — you can always go back and change things later if you need to. When you’re drafting, you should just let it flow to wherever creative place you’re led. 
 We were pretty inspired by his presentation, and we went back to the classroom to a) write, and b) read more of his book. The kids were so excited! We were totally unprepared, however, when he came into our classroom about an hour later. (So unprepared, in fact, that some of my students were still working on their vocabulary tests on Spelling City!) 

Usually when authors have come to our school, they’ve given their presentations, signed a few books, and then split. Mr. Grabenstein went above and beyond, happy to spend his day engaging with the kids and taking an interest in what they were doing. They barraged him with questions, and he answered openly and honestly, encouraging the kids the whole time. Needless to say, Mr. Grabenstein has secured quite a fan base in Eberopolis.

In the weeks since his visit, we’ve had countless conversations in writing about some of the little tidbits Mr. Grabenstein shared with us, but more than anything, I loved that my students got a chance to see that authors are real people, too. They have good ideas and bad, writer’s block and inner editors just like the rest of us. But they power through those hurdles, and we get some fantastic books as a result.

Thank you for visiting us, Mr. Grabenstein. It was definitely a highlight in our year.