‘Memories of a real book shared will last forever’

By Donna Boen ’83, MTSC ’96

If you’ve been itching to start that murder mystery calling to you from your nightstand or wanting to share your favorite childhood book with your own kids, now is the perfect time as March 2 is National Read Across America Day and the entire month of March is designated National Reading Month to motivate Americans of all ages to read every day.

No one appreciates reading more than the four bestselling authors, all alumnae, who will offer advice on how to get children and teens nose deep in a book at the Virtual Miami at the Merc 6 p.m. Tuesday, March 9.

During the evening, Tamara Bundy MA ’09, Sharon Draper MA ’73, Margaret Peterson Haddix ’86, and Margaret Rogerson ’11 will share their experience in the world of children’s literature and give advice for anyone considering writing books for children and teens.

The event is free, but registration is required. For details, visit Virtual Miami at the Merc: Turning the Page with Authors for Kids and Teens.

In anticipation of the evening, we asked the four authors to answer a few questions, ranging from their favorite book as a child to the most memorable question they’ve ever been asked.

We start with Sharon Draper. With more than 30 award-winning books for adolescents and teachers to her credit, Sharon has been honored at the White House six times, received the Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime literary achievement and is a five-time Coretta Scott King Award winner. Also an accomplished teacher for many years in Cincinnati, Sharon was the 1997 National Teacher of the Year.

How do parents, who are competing with technology, get their kids excited about reading?

In order to get a child interested in reading, books need to be on the table. I mean that both literally and figuratively. A family that reads will foster children that love books.

We are often way too involved in television, which has evolved into a 24-hour, nonstop series of video possibilities to capture our attention. We need to turn off the TV and read. Yes, read books the old-fashioned way.

There’s nothing better than having a 3-year-old snuggle on your lap while you read a story. Even older children will sit still and listen if the book is intriguing. Try it. We can all use more family time together. Of course there are audiobooks and other video devices, but the memories of a real book shared will last forever.

Do audiobooks count?

In my opinion, listening to an audiobook is fine occasionally, but the only way to truly understand the connection between words and thought, between the idea and the realization is to read a book, word for word the old-fashioned way. The brain sees the words, processes those words into thought, then sends those images to the mind. Audio takes away that process.

Is there one book you’d recommend over any other for children?

That’s like asking me what’s the best food to eat. There are thousands of books written for children, each with a different purpose and audience. A parent and a child should have the pleasure of going to a bookstore or library and choosing a book to read, preferably to read together. There’s a joy in that.

From the books I have written, I’d suggest “Out of My Mind” for ages 10-14. It’s a good one to share together. Amazon has wonderful lists and suggestions for age groups and interest areas. I use it often.

Is there one book that was your favorite as a child or one that influenced you the most?

My mother read to me as a child. Every single night. When I got old enough she took me to the library. Every single week. So the books I remember from my childhood are a wonderful mountain of stories and ideas. There’s no one book that stands out.

The thing that I remember is the constance and the pure joy of reading she instilled in me. By the time I was 11, I had read all the books on the children’s side of the library, and I got special permission to check out books on the “grownup” side. I encourage parents to take their children to their local libraries or bookstores and find something that catches their interest.

What’s the most memorable comment or question you’ve ever received from one of your fans?

I once had a young lady tell me, “Your book saved my life.” She was living in a difficult situation, and the book gave her courage to get out and seek help.

Do you have a writing muse or mascot?

No. But I have a dog that likes to sit on the rug in my office and keep me company while I write.

Are you always working on a book and how many half-finished books do you have?

I work on one book at a time. My brain can’t handle more than that! I have one unfinished book, and I need to finish it soon.

What’s the best writing advice you ever received?

Believe in yourself. Write what is true for you. Trust yourself.

What one thing would you give up to become a better writer?

Coconut cookies. I don’t like coconut cookies, so I’m safe there!

What are you working on now?

I’m working on a new novel. It is not finished and I’m not allowed to discuss it yet. It’s due out by Christmas.

What’s the one question you wish someone would ask you that they never do?

The best question I was ever asked was by a seventh-grade student. She wanted to know, “Where do you find your joy?” I told her, “I just found it in you!”

I can’t think of a question I wish someone would ask. I’ve been doing this for 25 years — seventh-graders manage to ask EVERYTHING!

Fun facts and advice from our additional bestselling authors

Photo of bestselling author, Tamara Bundy '09

Tamara Bundy MA ’09

What advice would you give parents wanting to entice their kids to read?

Technology can certainly be a challenge to reading – but it can also be an asset. From certain video games that have reading elements to audiobooks, there are many ways this can work. Just try not to make technology a reward and reading a chore.

Photo of bestselling author Margaret Peterson Haddix '86

Margaret Peterson Haddix ’86

Do you think audiobooks count as reading?

Absolutely! Listening to a story engages some different skills than seeing it on a page, but in both cases, kids are absorbing a story, using imagination to picture the story unfolding in their minds, etc.

I also like hearing about how listening to an audiobook while reading a physical text can be helpful for kids with dyslexia. This is a great example of how the technology can enhance the reading experience, instead of competing with it.

Photo of bestselling author Margaret Rogerson '11

Margaret Rogerson ’11

Do you have a writing muse or mascot?

Yes! My cat, Sphinx. I’ve had him since middle school. He likes to sleep sprawled out on his back on my desk while I write, tempting me with belly rubs.

Read their bios to learn more about all 4 Miami at the Merc’s bestselling authors.

You might also be interested …

Did you know?

Miami’s own King Library features a historic children’s literature collection. The Edgar and Faith King Juvenile Literature Collection contains more than 10,000 children’s books, toys and games.

For the avid reader

The Miami University Alumni Book Club is about to start its upcoming selection, “The Midnight Library: A Novel” by Matt Haig. Join the online discussion beginning Thursday, March 18.

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