Collaborative Summer Read program connects local authors, students

After four years of coordinating the Champlin Park High School (CPHS) “Red Hot Rebel Read,” where every student and staff member received a book to read over the summer and the book’s author came for a visit in the fall, Terri Evans decided to try something new.

CPHS senior Chandler Foster listens to writing advice from author Geoff Herbach. “He’s an amazing writer,” Foster said, who is an aspiring writer himself. (Photo by Mindy Mateuszczyk)
CPHS senior Chandler Foster listens to writing advice from author Geoff Herbach.
“He’s an amazing writer,” Foster said, who is an aspiring writer himself. (Photo by Mindy Mateuszczyk)

Evans, the CPHS media specialist, and Pam Leindecker, the Anoka High School (AHS) media specialist, joined forces for the “Rebel/Tornado Summer Read 2012.” The program featured four books written by Minnesota authors. Evans and Leindecker presented the program to students in the spring. Students applied to take part in the program.

Two hundred students from Champlin Park and Anoka high schools were selected for the “Tornado/Rebel Summer Read 2012.” Students were presented with books by four Minnesota authors at a kick-off event at the end of May. The books were: Unforgettable, Loretta Ellsworth; The Tear Collector, by Patrick Jones; Split, by Swati Avasthi; and Stupid Fast, by Geoff Herbach. Evans said that during the summer, as students read each book, they contributed to a blog where they shared their reactions and interacted with the authors.

The program culminated in an author visit day on Oct. 11, as students from Anoka traveled to Champlin Park to meet and learn more from the four authors. They offered tips on writing and insight into their writing careers. the authors held mini-sessions about writing and publishing with the students. The authors ate lunch with the students and signed their books.

Ellsworth said she was very impressed with the program and that it’s always great to meet students who love to read and are interested in writing.

“This was a wonderful chance to meet other authors and for students to realize this is a career choice,” she said.

Ellsworth’s breakout session was “Mining Your Memories: How Authors Mine Their Own Memories and Experiences to Create Compelling Fiction for Teens.” She said sometimes people think that others don’t want to read about what happens in Minnesota.

Jones also enjoyed the experience and hopes other schools will replicate the program. He looks forward to coming back to the Anoka-Hennepin School District and would like to visit its alternative programs. Through his book and breakout session, “Tear Collectors: Writers Living Off the Tears of Teens,” Jones hopes he reinforced the importance and joy of reading for pleasure, which is a key indicator of student success in standardized tests.

“I also hope for those students who write that they saw some role models and realize that you don’t have to live in New York or have advanced degrees or look like a rock star (to be a writer),” said Jones who thought the program was well organized. “This was a rare chance you interact with readers in small groups, in particular the informal time at lunch where I got to compare stories and shoes.”

For Avasthi, books can open a window to a new situation and a reader’s imagination gives him or her power to step into someone else’s shoes and practice empathy. Books can also be a mirror and allow a read to recognize him or herself in the pages, making the reader feel less isolated and more validated.

“Either way, the students read four books and got to experience the world around them in the safest way possible – through paper and ink,” Avasthi said. “When we got to meet the students, we were able to connect with them author to reader, which is always a pleasure and a learning experience for both people involved.”

Avasthi enjoyed her experience with the Rebel/Tornado Summer Read 2012.

“Being in a community of good readers, librarians and teachers is energizing and helps me remember, on days when the muse is surly, why I chose this profession,” she said.

From his experience with the Rebel/Tornado Summer Read 2012, Herbach got the impression that media specialists in the Anoka-Hennepin School District are doing a great job promoting reading.

“Having strong reading skills is so important to success in college and beyond,” he said. “I really just hope the kids in the program got psyched up to read more.”

During his breakout session with the students, “Sudden Hair Growth: Inspiration and Perspiration Collided at the Beginning of Stupid Fast,” Herbach spoke about character development. When thinking about a character, he thinks about what the character would have in his or her bedroom. To get the wheels turning with the students he had them shout out things to find in a bedroom. In one session, items ranged from a fish tank to a pocketknife. Herbach said his favorite part of the program was the visit day.

“It was enormously fun to talk to students after they’d read all four books,” Herbach said. “There was so much enthusiasm in the classrooms. That energy makes me want to write more and I can’t help but think the students’ enthusiasm for the program will bleed back into their English classes. It was great fun.”

CPHS sophomore Amber Westlund read all four books. Her favorite was Unforgettable. A volunteer in the Library Media Center this summer, Westlund got to put stickers on the books, organize them and see the program she enjoyed so much come together.

“I like that you wouldn’t usually have this opportunity to meet authors,” Westlund said. “I read all of the time and I liked having multiple stories. It was a unique experience and fun to be part of it.”

Annika Williamson, a senior at CPHS, read Unforgettable and Split. Williamson said she enjoyed Split because it was a book she could relate to. The program included a blog where students could send questions to the authors over the summer. Williamson said she enjoyed being able to ask the authors questions such as, “Why did you choose this story?”

“To have the authors actually reply to us and say, ‘this is what I feel, this is what I think,’ showed that they really cared,” said Williamson, who is a writer. “It created a strong connection with them. And today they are right here. It’s very exciting.”

While Corry Davis read only one of the four books, Split, it made a big impact on him. During the summer the AHS junior read the book six times. Davis was very excited to meet Avasthi, talk to her about Split and to hear about any new books she has being published.

“I thought it was amazing,” he said. “I was going to read another book, but this was so good.“I just loved that book. It helped me to read a lot.”

The Rebel/Tornado Summer Read 2012 was not just a success for the students and authors; Leindecker and Evans were also pleased with the program.

“The authors were very inviting to the students and made them feel like their (students) ‘story’ is also very important,” Leindecker said. “This is the sorts of thing students will remember from their high school experience. Students really made a connection with these authors because the authors took the time to talk with and listen to their readers. It was wonderful.”

Evan said what she loved about the Red Hot Rebel Read is that it brought kids, books and the writers together. This year since the students chose to participate in the Rebel/Tornado Summer Read 2012, they were particularly engaged.

“The students asked probing questions and had insightful comments,” Evans said. “They learned – and they had fun doing it. All four of this year’s authors provided unique perspectives on the craft of writing, and on the books they craft. They talked with students, listened to their stories, encouraged their writing and reading, and valued and accepted each of them as individuals.

“I truly think that this day was a life changing experience for some of these kids.”