In the Classroom: Authors as People

Two teachers in recent blog posts had some interesting points to make about meeting authors.

In “Fangirl” Donalyn Miller writes about often feeling starstruck when coming into contact with her favorite book creators.

Meeting authors isn’t like meeting Cameron Diaz to me—it’s like meeting Picasso. Writing is an art. Authors are artists—painting images with words, sculpting worlds to explore, evoking emotions that make me feel more alive. When you are a fan, reading is art appreciation.

In “Authors Demystified” Katherine Sokolowski writes movingly about how and why her meetings with Katherine Paterson were so special and distinctive from meeting other authors.

I think that when I was a kid authors were removed from us. I never for one moment believed that I could be one – that was something revered and special reserved for a chosen few. I didn’t know how you got to be that lucky, but knew that would never be in the cards for me.I didn’t know any authors. None ever came to the cornfields of Illinois so I assumed authors lived in magical worlds – or at least not rural towns like mine.
My entire goal as a teacher is to change this for my students. I want them to know authors, and illustrators, as I do. To demystify this profession. To make them cherish their words – and beautiful illustrations, but also see them as people.

Like Katherine I too did not meet any authors growing up. But I have to say I wasn’t  interested in them, just in their books. Say Madeleine L’Engle. In 5th grade I desperately wanted my own copy of  her now-rather-forgotten  And Both Were Young.  I was besotted with this teen novel which involved a Swiss boarding school (I’d spent time in European schools), a shy protagonist in a new school (I so identified with her having moved a lot), and a sweet romance. And so, after taking the book out of the library over and over, wanting to own it I started copying it out into a notebook, giving up after three chapters. (I don’t believe there was a bookstore in East Lansing with children’s books at that time, certainly the idea of buying it never occurred to me.) Yet for all my love of the book I never thought about its creator. Not once. Never thought to write a fan letter or find out anything about her.  

Things are different and the same today.  Different in that the Internet has made virtual connections between readers and book creators much more likely. As a result of my online connections I’ve met a number of book creators in real life and consider many of them friends. And so while I admire what they do I also think of them as regular people who have ups and downs in life as we all do. I want my own students who have access to information about authors in a way I never did to appreciate them as artists in the way Donalyn describes, but also to know that they are just real people as Katherine notes.

But what makes me happiest is what is still the same for my students — falling as deeply in love with a particular book as I did at their age. While they can easily get a copy and don’t have to resort to my crazy attempt to have my own, they still love books to tattered shreds, read them over and over just as I did.  Sometimes I’ll suggest to such a kid that they might want to write to the author, but generally they aren’t interested. They just care about the book.



Filed under In the Classroom

5 responses to “In the Classroom: Authors as People

  1. I absolutely love that you started copying the book into your notebook. I would check them out of the library so many times in a row because I was worried someone else would lose it – then what would I do?

    Thanks for the shout-out on your blog. I love hearing others thoughts on this. :)


  2. This is exactly the reason why I told my publisher that I didn’t want an author photo to appear on my books. Once a book is done and in the world – be it for kids or adults – the author should take their cue and disappear. Poof! Our work is finished and our role is complete. Only the story matters. Only the reader matters. That’s it.

    That being said, I treasure my time in classrooms because it allows me to be a teacher again, and not a writer. Because classrooms are *wonderful*. A classroom, like a novel, is a world unto itself, complete with narrative harmonics and story arcs and foreshadowing and denouement. And if I can get a bunch of kids writing and thinking and believing that their stories not only matter, but they are part of their birthright as human beings? Well. That’s a special thing.

    (also? copying beloved books into a notebook? Yup, me too. I fell in love with the Oz books as a kid, many of which were out of print at the time. It’s how I learned about interlibrary loan. But it was such a pain in the butt to get the books in the first place, and who knew if I’d ever see them again, so I copied them down. Word by word. In retrospect, it was probably good training.)


  3. I also adored books and never thought of the authors beyond the names on the covers. To acknowledge that the authors were real would have implied the books somehow weren’t…


  4. fairrosa

    I have many thoughts on this, as Monica probably knows well: First off, I actually think the “worshiping of authors” is rather a mistake to promote to our students. I think reading is art appreciation (and I believe understanding and being able to analyze an actor/actress for their craft is also art appreciation) — regardless of whether the readers know a lot or very little of the author and his/her creative process. Let’s appreciate the WORK that the authors do, and how they do it well, and the efforts that are put into creating these wonderful books for us and our students — but, can we, perhaps, not make it so the authors/illustrators are celebrities to be fawned over?

    I think part of the current phenomenon of authors connected so closely with their child readers has something to do with marketing strategies, not just the advance of technology: for certain authors, visiting stores and schools and libraries is THE way to guarantee book sales and generate further revenue (honorarium) for themselves. Which is totally fine — but I do think there are economic reasons, on top of all the other reasons: connecting to their readers for emotional and intellectual purposes, say.

    I agree to a certain degree with Kelly that we must let the WORK speak to the readers. However, I think it can also be incredibly important, revelatory, inspiring, and even practical for the young readers to know that words do not just magically appear on the pages, that authors/illustrators made artistic choices to move the pieces around to create the plot, characters, scenes, etc. etc., and that when they read, they ARE experiencing a unique art form.

    I am star struck, of course, by some authors and especially by those whom I became friends with who continue to work hard and create amazing work and who, once in a while when their work isn’t as ideal, are willing to take criticism and thoughtful analysis to heart and diligently challenge themselves on future endeavors.

    So, let’s not forget that they ARE artists and they ARE just people, too!


  5. I wanted to BE one of those authors when I was a young reader, so while I wouldn’t say I worshipped writers, I was definitely in awe, and would have loved to meet one. I became an editor and then a teacher though (but as I often tell others, there’s no time-limit for becoming an author if you truly want to…) I love that social media/skype etc. allows for writers to connect with readers today. I think it can help students see writers as real people, and writing as something that yes, they too can do!


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