Children's author visits area schools and libraries

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

This school year, middle school students heard author Rick Riordan explain his inspiration for the "Percy Jackson and the Olympians" series. High school students heard Stephanie Tolan describe the process of adapting a book into a play. This month, they listened to author Sandra Dallas speak about internment camps.

"We were interested in finding an author for younger kids," said Mary Pensel, librarian of Jackson Junior High.

On Tuesday, elementary school children got their wish. Lisa Wheeler, the author of more than 20 picture books, visited with Jackson first- through third-graders. Today she is at Trinity Lutheran School. At 9 a.m. Thursday she will present at Riverside Regional Library in Jackson, and again at 10:30 a.m. at the Cape Girardeau Public Library.

Her visit is sponsored by the Missouri Arts Council and the YELL Foundation, Youth Education Literacy & Learning.

On Tuesday, she focused mainly on her books featuring cows, creating the theme "I'm in the moooo-d for books." Her books are known for their rhyme, rhythm and humor.

She completed her presentation by reading the book "Sailor Moo: Cow at Sea," the tale of a bovine who ventures to the ocean seeking adventure. "Yo-ho-ho! And a shiver-me-be. Whoever heard of a cow at sea?" she quoted.

The vocabulary in her books is often elevated, with phrases such as "savage gale," "looting steers" and "cow buccaneers."

"A lot of people will say kids won't get that. They might not understand the words, but they can understand it in context," she said. She said she adds the puns for parents' sake.

"I read to my kids, I know how it is. I want to give something to mom and dad," she said.

Wheeler spent most of her time revealing her "top secret cow file," with contained stories of famous cows or their owners around the world. Examples include an artist who carves cows out of butter and a cow in Turkey that fell through the roof of a coffeehouse.

She used the stories as examples of how she gets ideas for her books.

"Look around you, on TV, in the newspaper, at the person sitting next to you. Ideas are everywhere. They float around," she said.

Wheeler said she received 225 rejection letters before she became published. She began writing professionally at age 32.

"When you write for fun, the only person that has to like it is you. When you write for work, there are lots of little eyes that are going to be seeing that work. You are the most discriminating readers there are," she told the audience.

Still, she said she loves her job. "It's like I get paid to ride my bike every day," she said.

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