Author of children's books meets with fans

Wednesday, November 6, 2002

Squeals of laughter filled Central Junior High's auditorium Tuesday as award-winning author Jack Gantos brought to life his children's books for local elementary students.

Gantos, whose books include the Newberry honor-winning Joey Pigza series and the Jack Henry series, spoke with fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders from Cape Girardeau, Malden, Mo., and Poplar Bluff, Mo., about his career as a writer.

"The reason I'm here is because I write books. That's what I do for a living, and it's a great job," Gantos told students.

Sixth-graders Marisa Andrews and Rita Walter said their class has been reading Gantos' "Joey Pigza Loses Control."

"I love his books because they're very funny," said Andrews. "It's so cool to get a chance to actually meet the writer."

Gantos kept his young audience in stitches with stories of his childhood in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. He encouraged students to keep personal journals and use their journal entries to inspire stories.

During his stay, Gantos autographed books and had lunch with a fifth-grade class from Central Middle School.

Students in Mary Ann Stamp's class were treated to lunch with Gantos at the middle school because they purchased the most Joey Pigza books from the library.

"Having lunch with the author was great. It's something I'll remember for a really long time," said 10-year-old Holly Schermann.

Schermann said each student in her class also received a diary to inspire them to write.

Getting to know him

While all of the students agreed the best thing about Gantos' books was his sense of humor, there's also a serious side they were quick to pick up on -- the title character in the Joey Pigza series has Attention Deficit Disorder.

"He's really funny, but we've also been able to learn about ADD," said fifth-grader Seth Reeves.

"Meeting him has changed how I look at the books. It's been a really great experience," Reeves said.

Gantos, who now lives in Boston, also took time to hold a teachers' workshop Tuesday evening to explain ways to implement creative writing in the classroom.

"I demystify writing for kids," he said. "It's not that mysterious, but it takes work. Writing is not always easy, but kids are enthused with it and it plugs into teachers' curriculum."

Middle school librarian Vicki Howard organized Gantos' visit to Cape Girardeau.

"Everything was wonderful. It was really rewarding listening to the children's laughter today," Howard said.

She said all of the classes who met with Gantos had read at least a portion of one of his books.

"Really, it was the support of the teachers that made everything worthwhile," Howard said. "They read to the kids, so they were already familiar with his characters."

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