For the love of words

Photo by Esther Yoon-JI Kang

Author Charlotte Heman helps Rashida Black, 9, write a compostion.

Third-graders at South Loop Elementary School spent weeks preparing for the arrival of Charlotte Herman. They studied about her life, read her books, made posters to welcome her, even created a skit to perform for her. When the children’s author finally arrived, they could barely contain their excitement.

“She’s really nice and a great author,” says Jaquille Jenkins, 8. “I want to write something like she did. I’m writing something right now.”

It’s just that kind of enthusiasm about reading that organizers hope to spur in third-graders throughout 15 other Chicago schools with the Authors in the Schools program organized by the Near South Planning Board.

The program is “great for the kids,” says Jeanette Walker, South Loop’s reading specialist. “It’s good for them to see there’s a real person behind the books, and that maybe they can be authors someday.”

Each school receives a book by the author and instructional materials several weeks before the visit. Students read the book, complete assignments related to the author’s works and prepare for a writing workshop led by the author.

South Loop students read Max Malone and the Great Cereal Rip-Off, about a boy who searches for a toy in his cereal box. Herman says the idea for her book came from her son, who wrote a letter to a cereal company when he couldn’t find the toy on the cereal box advertisement.

“I wanted to show them how they can relate their own experiences,” Herman says. “I wanted to teach them not to be afraid of writing, and I wanted to take some of the mystique out of it.”

Herman’s workshop encourages students to write about the people in their lives. “Don’t worry about spelling or things like that,” Herman says. “Just write all of your ideas down.”

The program started seven years ago to promote a book fair and now is offered throughout the city, says Bonnie Sanchez-Carlson, the planning board’s spokeswoman. It focuses on third graders because “that’s the age when they move from picture books to chapter books,” she says.

Other Illinois authors participating in the program are Glennette Tilley Turner, author of Take a Walk in Their Shoes and two other children’s books; W. Nikola-Lisa, author of Summer Sun Risin’ and 11 other children’s books; Robert Burleigh, author of Into the Woods: John James Audubon Lives His Dream and 18 other children’s books; Marlene Targ Brill, author of Margaret Knight: Girl Inventor and 23 other children’s books, and Debbi Chocolate, author of The Piano Man and six other children’s books.

— Esther Yoon-Ji Kang Medill News Service

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