Monday, March 26, 2012

Author Jennifer Jacobson Visits!

It is days like today that remind me why it is I do what I do.  We kicked off a three day visit with Maine author Jennifer Jacobson at our Intermediate School! I'm not sure who was more excited...the students or me! I just love the looks on students' faces when they meet the authors of books they have read face to face. There really is nothing else quite like it!  When kids get to meet an author of a book they have read, a very special connection is made! Students are energized and inspired with a deeper appreciation of reading and writing. When a student can "touch" the hand behind the printed page of the book they've read, books become deeply more personal and important.

We started the morning off by welcoming Jennifer to our school! As she walked through the tunnel of cheering, clapping students and adults you could already sense the connections being made.  The huge smiles on student faces and the overwhelming look of gratitude (and a few tears) on Jennifer's face reconfirmed to me how powerful these next three days would be for our students.

As with all of our author visits we enjoyed a big Kick Off Assembly at our middle school's Performing Arts Center at the beginning of the day. Our entire 4th/5th school came together to hear Jennifer share how her life experiences sneak their way into the writing of her fiction stories.  Using lively storytelling and visual props, students were captivated as Jennifer spoke.  One of the coolest things she showed was how she takes the time to really get to know her characters. Jennifer shared with students that its important to have well rounded characters, where the writer includes not only the character's good qualities but some of the not so good qualities as well.  Otherwise a writer will end up with flat, one dimensional characters making it difficult for readers to care what happens in the story.  Using her Winnie series (Winnie (Dancing) on Her Own, Truly Winnie, and Winnie at Her Best) Jennifer demonstrated a cool technique she used to really get to know the three main characters in that series. She created a backpack for each of them that included items that described their personalities and interests. Students loved sharing what they knew about each character just from the items Jennifer pulled from each backpack.  

The Kick-Off Assembly was followed up with small group sessions where Jennifer talked specifically about her new middle grade novel Small as an Elephant.  She shared her journey as a writer, rejection letters and all, reminding students that "writing takes a lot of hard work and is mostly about revising!"  We loved hearing the "behind the scenes" efforts that went in to writing Small as an Elephant including how, after writing her first draft, Jennifer visited many of the places in the book with her Writer's Notebook, writing down her observations as she visited each location, and then went back to revise, adding details and expanding the setting. She offered several great pieces of advice to our writers:

1.   The job of a writer is to make a movie in the reader's mind.
2.  You can't write the story until you know what the main character wants.
3.  The beginning has to grab the reader and not let go! 
4.  Each draft is like modeling clay; as a writer you can move the clay around to make   something really terrific!

It was a wonderful day! We have more small group sessions tomorrow and Wednesday and a Book Signing event at our local public library tomorrow evening. Putting together an author visit takes thoughtful planning by our school's Literacy Team and couldn't happen without the financial support of our Parent Teacher Association.  When you bring an author to your school, you are not only helping your students, you are also supporting the art of writing! It's an investment of time and money that has long lasting effects for everyone involved!

This book trailer was created by my friend, Cathy Potter, School Librarian at Falmouth Elementary School in Falmouth, Maine.