Noted author Kimmel brings spider to Clark Elementary

If you’ve got kids, you probably know “Anansi the Spider” from the book written by Eric Kimmel. If not, see why an auditorium full of young fans welcomed him – and his famous spider – to their school …

-1 Using a tambourine as he tells his story “Anansi and the Moss Covered Rock”, nationally-known children’s author Eric Kimmel gets a rock star’s reception from kids at Clark Elementary School.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

For some grade-schoolers, learning to read and write is hard work. So, educators at William Clark Elementary School on SE 92nd Avenue, just south of SE Washington Street, came up with an idea to get them involved in literature.

“We thought that inviting Eric Kimmel, a Portland-based author, was a good way to kick off our month-long reading campaign,” explains Kathryn Golden, a 3rd grade teacher, and Principal Intern at the school.

“Our kids here at Clark, and in our SUN School program, have been reading stories about “Anansi the Spider” – Kimmel’s central character in many of his children’s books,” Golden tells us before the event on October 2. “We’ve been doing classroom activities with his books. He’s become like a rock star to them.”

-2 Ron McDonald, SUN program teacher, and Kim Vorasai, kindergarten teacher, serve pizza to students before Eric Kimmel speaks.

As the SUN School kids are enjoying a pizza meal before meeting Kimmel, Joel Todd, the site manager for the Clark Elementary SUN school, echoes Golden’s sentiments. “The energy generated by being able to meet a nationally-famous author has my kids freaking out with joy. They can’t believe they get to meet him and ask questions. The way it has gotten our kids into reading – it is awesome. I love it.”

As the auditorium starts to fill, and the 60 SUN School kids start filing in, we have the chance to speak with Kimmel.

-3 Joel Todd, SUN site manager Kathryn Golden 3rd Grade Teacher, and Principal Intern, and author Eric Kimmel before the program.

Professor turns children’s author

“I’m a former professor of education at Portland State University; and Professor Emeritus, school of administration,” Kimmel says. “But, I’ve been writing for kids for forty years. I’m here tonight to do a program focusing on a new book coming out. [The book] is still in process. I thought it might be fun for everyone to get a look at what goes into making a book.

“I’ll show the kids edited manuscripts and some pictures from the artists. They’ll will learn that books don’t just pop out of your head, ready to put on the library shelf.”

Kimmel says his stories don’t moralize. “Your job is to simply tell a good story. There is a beginning, middle, and end. A character has a problem, and ends up on a higher or lower plane, based on his decisions. Just like life!”

-4 Eric Kimmel tells the story of Anansi the Spider. The kids have been reading the book, and help by chiming in when asked to do so.

Says sharing his process is important

For Kimmel, says talking about his work is a pleasure. “It is important for kids to know books are created by real people. And, that creating a book is a process.”

Learning to read and write, while vitally important, is still difficult for many kids, Kimmel explains.

“I want kids to see that thinking is the first step in writing. You might actually have to think for quite some time before you write. And, the story will go through several revisions. And, it’s important that they realize that there is a ‘story behind the story’ – books are put together from bits of this and that.”

Another idea Kimmel imparts is “When you have a good idea, you write it down. Be tough on yourself and look it over. Rewrite it. Most books on the library shelf have been rewritten many times. Don’t think that, because your first draft isn’t very good, that you’re not a good writer.”

Kimmel, the rock star of kid’s books

As the author is introduced, he’s greeted with a thundering ovation. As the room quiets down, he starts by telling – not reading – a story about one of his characters, Anansi the Spider.

-5 When Kimmel asks, “What happens next?” – most of the kids know the answer because they’ve been reading the book at school.

Within minutes, Kimmel has the attention of his youthful audience. They love the story. And, ask questions, to learn more about the “story behind the story”. Perhaps one of these kids will, because of this experience, go on to become a famous children’s author some day.

To learn more about Kimmel, see his web site: CLICK HERE.

© 2007 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News Service

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