A few months ago, I was lucky enough to meet Mary Atkinson at a local conference. She asked if I'd read her newly published book, Owl Girl and never one to turn down a free book, I accepted. The book sat on my stack for awhile, but once I started, I finished it in a weekend. When I finished the book, my first thought was, 'this would be a perfect read-aloud for second or third grade.' As luck would have it, I actually work with a 2/3 multi-age class and gave the book to the teachers to read. Here's the synopsis from Goodreads:
Holly's stuck at the lake for summer vacation. Usually, she loves the lake. But not this year. This year, Mom and Dad aren't staying. She's not going to have any fun. Her older brother Nick won't play with her, and Gram never lets her do anything. When Holly hears the ancient and mysterious call of an owl, she's certain he's calling just to her.
I immediately sent Mary a message letting her know how much I enjoyed the book, that I was passing it on to my 2/3 class and would let her know how they liked it. When Mary graciously offered to come visit the school and spend a little time with the class, I wasn't sure what to expect. What Mary did was simply a perfect author visit, so I thought I'd share:
- Getting to know the author: Mary shared some pieces she wrote as a child - one from second and another from fifth grade. She then led the students through an inquiry about 'what makes a good author' and had them share ideas about practicing and revision leading to better writing.
- Next, Mary shared Holly's (the main character from Owl Girl) backpack. She asked the class what might be in her backpack and as they called out ideas, she pulled artifacts from the story, talking about each one's significance and meaning. It was a powerful way to bring the character to life and demonstrate character development.
- After the backpack activity, Mary asked the class what their favorite part/chapter from the story was - she had a few children share and then she read her favorite chapter.
Next, she took questions from the class. Prior to her visit, the class had read Owl Girl as well as some poems Mary has published in anthologies. Their questions were thoughtful and she was patient and charitable with her answers. A few highlights:
- How long have you been an author?
- How do you generate ideas?
- Do you always write about a female character and a brother?
- We notice you often write about water - why?
- How long did it take you to write Owl Girl?
- Do you have pets? We noticed animals in your books/poems.
- Did you experience any of the events Holly did in the book?
- After the Q&A, Mary led the class through a character development activity. Mirroring her sharing of Holly's backpack, she had a different bag, this one with different objects: a deck of cards, a yo-yo, a bag of marbles, a picture of a cat, and a camera. She asked the students to make up a character and pick one object and think of it's significance to their character. They then went off to do a quick writing drill using one of the objects.
- Finally, the class circled up and shared their writing and we said goodbye to our visiting author.
My favorite part of the visit was the general excitement the children had for Mary. When she walked in and introduced herself, they erupted into applause. When she finished, they first, again, clapped, but then, rushed up to her to ask more questions, give compliments, and ask for her autograph. These kids adored Owl Girl and I know most second and third graders will too. More importantly, they viewed Mary Atkinson as someone special, someone who writes books for kids - authors are our rock stars.