Colorful balloons of purple, green, yellow and red. Cut-out ponies prancing around the seats. Crepe-paper streamers hanging down from the ceiling. Dozens and dozens of enthusiastic kids chattering and laughing. Observing all this, you might think you’ve walked into a giant carousel or Big Top, when in fact you’ve just found yourself at the 43rd Annual Author-Go-Round, presented by the Santa Barbara County Education Office.
From January 28 to February 1 from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., 5th through 8th grade students from all over Santa Barbara County gathered in the SB County Education Office Auditorium for a chance to meet and hear from four successful published children’s books authors. This year’s Author-Go-Round featured Sneed B. Collard III, Sherry Shahan, Greg Trine and Eugene Yelchin.
“The purpose [of Author-Go-Round] is to expose kids to books and to authors, and it’s really an event that celebrates literature and children’s literature,” says Matt Zuchowicz, director of Educational Technology Services and emcee for the event.
What sets the Author-G0-Round apart is that while the kids can personally meet the authors, not everyone can go. The kids that attend are chosen by their schools, with each teacher performing their own selection process. For example, while some kids were chosen based on how much time they spent in the library, others had to create a drawing and write a short explanation of why they should be chosen. Although it is selective, the end result is a room full of children who have an overwhelming love and passion for books and writing.
“It allows students who don’t always get recognition to actually have an ability to experience something that’s unique and different,” explains Zuchowicz.
After participating in a few creative activities and standing in line for autographs, the kids sat down to hear short presentations from the authors, who started off saying a little about themselves and their background. They explained how they got started writing and said what books they’re working on next, also showing a few slides of their most famous works.
“We look for a couple of things for the authors. First and foremost, we want to make sure that they’re published and that they have books that are appropriate for our students… Also, and I would say even more importantly, we want to make sure that they’re delivering a good message and that they’re engaging presenters because we want to make sure that the kids will really come away from this having a really positive experience about the Author-Go-Round,” says Zuchowicz.
Besides conveying great messages to the kids, each author brings something different to the table, presenting diverse facets of literary genres. The first presenter, Greg Trine, represents the “superhero” genre with his literary hit Melvin Beederman, Superhero. He is currently working on his new chapter book series The Adventures of Jo Schmo. Russian author and illustrator Eugene Yelchin, besides being a wonderful writer, also has a talent for fine art. His book Breaking Stalin’s Nose, which he wrote and illustrated himself, received the Newbery Honor Award. Writer Sherry Shahan uses her traveling experience and integrates it into her stories, which are largely inspired by her love to go abroad. She is best known for her work Frozen Stiff. The last author, Sneed B. Collard III, has written more than 65 books spanning several genres, the majority being non-fiction. Having a background in biology and computer science, he combines his science and writing talents, educating children on animals and nature. He is currently working on a book about insects.
After the presentations and a break for snacks, the kids took turns stopping at four different stations in each corner of the room, where they visited and listened to each author. They rotated to the next station after 15 minutes, and then the next, thus completing the Author-Go-Round.
This is such an extraordinary event that provides kids with an education and a literary outlet where they can explore the possibility of becoming writers and illustrators themselves. It is so encouraging to see an auditorium full of young students with eager faces who love books, love to read and love to learn. I’ll leave you with a couple of quotes, which Zuchowicz used to kick-start the event.
“Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.” – Groucho Marx
“There is no friend as loyal as a book.” –Ernest Hemingway