Clean Up Your Act - HOW TO BE PRACTICAL & GET ORGANIZED
Inspiring The Next Generation Of Storytellers
by Vicki Schultz
“The more that you read, the more things you will know.The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” – Dr. Seuss
I like this Dr. Seuss quote, but he forgot to mention that reading often leads to writing, a skill that empowers a whole new generation of storytellers. The dozens of authors and illustrators who participate in the Rochester Children’s Book Festival – our community’s award-winning, free celebration of literacy and learning – were once just like the children who attend the festival: some avid readers, some reluctant, but every one inquisitive and creative. We asked some of the featured authors what their favorite books were as children and how books inspired and empowered them to become writers.
LARRY TUXBURY and MATT MCELLIGOTT, coauthors of the Benjamin Franklinstein series and friends since 7th grade, both loved comic books and The Mad Scientists’ Club series by Bertrand R. Brinley. Tuxbury had been a reluctant reader until his school librarian introduced him to books like Encyclopedia Brown by Donald Sobol, the Alvin Fernald series by Clifford B. Hicks, Peter Graves by William Pene DuBois, and Homer Price by Robert McCloskey. He says, “As I read those adventures, I was subconsciously learning how to structure a scene, how to write believable dialogue, and how to create a character that seemed real. Just as our parents influence what kinds of adults we grow into, the authors we read influence what kinds of writers we become.”
MATT MCELLIGOTT was an avid reader from the start, gobbling up books like The Great Brain series by John Fitzgerald, The Westing Game and The Tattooed Potato and Other Clues by Ellen Raskin, and anything by Daniel Pinkwater. His love of writing grew from his love of drawing. “When we read a story, we’re writing the details in our minds,” says McElligott. “When we write a story, we're imagining how our audience will read it.Without reading there is no writing, and vice/versa…. The message I received growing up was that books and illustrations were important, and that's a message that’s stuck with me all my life.”
SHEELA CHARI, Edgar Award Nominee for her debut novel Vanished, is new to the festival this year. “Reading completely shaped the way I thought about characters and conflict, about places I wanted to go as a child, and the kind of person I wanted to be,” says Chari. Her childhood favorites included A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, and anything by Lois Duncan or Beverly Cleary. “Some books are like ice cream – they go down easily, and keep you wanting more. But other books are like a new dish from a foreign country – something you might not like at first, something that might make your eyes water from the chilies, or something you love but can only eat in small amounts. Regardless, it’s important to read the books that don’t go down so easily, that take effort, because these might also be the books you will think about for a long time, which might change the way you see the world or yourself.”
MATT PHELAN, an illustrator, graphic novelist, and recipient of the 2010 Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction, loved reading biographies, the Peanuts comic collections by Charles Schulz, and The Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander. “By reading I was introduced to the power of stories and images. I loved how I felt when I got lost in a book and eventually I wanted to understand how that was done,” says Phelean. “Reading inspires me, enlightens me, and challenges me to be a better writer and illustrator…. I need that magic in my life.”
New to the festival this year, picture book author Lisa Wheeler’s favorite books were Humbug Witch by Lorna Balian and Over and Over by Charlotte Zolotow. “I tell kids that for every one book I write, I read one hundred.
That is not very far from the truth… It is so important to be a reader if you want to be a writer. Reading helps your brain learn story structure, plot, vocabulary and so much more.” Even though she wrote songs, poems, and stories as a child, Lisa never imagined she would grow up to write books. Now she’s happy she did. “I have the best job in the world!”
PAUL ACAMPORA, author of children’s novels and short stories, is new to the festival this year. He enjoyed the Black Stallion books by Walter Farley and the Three Investigator’s series by Alfred Hitchcock. He then moved on to science fiction novels by Tom Swift, Robert Heinlein, and Isaac Asimov. “Books are so magical and amazing and important to me that I never once thought I’d make one of them myself,” says Acampora. “Little by little, I learned how good writers describe settings, how they bring characters to life, how they tell a story, how they make readers care. If you look at them from a certain angle, books are how-to manuals for how to write books.”
Picture book author and debut novelist MARSHA HAYLES loved reading The Cat in the Hat and Horton Hears a Who by Dr. Seuss. “I loved writing poems as a child. Rhyme always appealed to me and still satisfies the part of my brain that enjoys solving a puzzle or finding that perfect word in a Scrabble game,” says Hayles. Her favorite books were Nancy and Plum and the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle series by Betty McDonald, which she read aloud to her own children. “My best friend in grade school was a talented artist, so she and I did many projects together – what I now know were my first picture books.”
Vicki Schultz is a member of RACWI (Rochester Area Children’s Writers & Illustrators) and one of the organizers of the Rochester Children’s Book Festival.She lives in West Henrietta with her husband and two young sons.