BATH, Maine — “Sometimes you have to change things around before you get them just right.”
Chris Van Dusen of Camden, an author and illustrator of children’s books, was speaking Monday to Fisher-Mitchell School fifth-graders in Brent Luchies’ and Tammy Baxter’s classrooms who had read one of his books.
The students, sitting on the floor in front of him, were attentive and eager to participate.
About halfway through his presentation, Van Dusen asked them if they could guess which of his books took him the longest to write.
After several guesses, he held up a copy of his first book, “Down to the Sea with Mr. McGee.”
“It took me nine years,” Van Dusen said.
The author/illustrator then showed the students his first sketch of Mr. McGee, with a funny-shaped head and skinny arms.
“I sketched the whole book with that character,” Van Dusen said. “That was a big waste of time.”
The lesson to the students: “Don’t be afraid to try things different, and see if you can make them even better,” he said.
Van Dusen is the resident artist for this year’s edition of the “One Book, One School” initiative, which started at Fisher-Mitchell three years ago. This year, he is spending one day each with students in grades three, four and five, and the school will host an assembly at 2:05 p.m. Feb. 12.
Third-grade teacher Joan Newkirk worked with Principal Nancy Harriman to get the “One Book, One School” program going.
Harriman said a $2,000 grant from Target and a good effort from the PTA made this year’s program possible at the school, where writing projects represent an “area of need.”
Fourth-grader Olivia Bowling, for one, has been all over it. She and her classmates read “Down to the Sea with Mr. McGee,” and planned to sit in with Van Dusen.
In her classroom, teacher Susan Harrison conducts many reader workshops in which students develop stamina and focus needed to produce good work. Students are taught how to develop a lead-in, introduction, detailed paragraphs and a conclusion.
“Writing is my hobby,” Olivia said. “All your thoughts get to be used.”
She appreciated the fanciful aspect of Van Dusen’s book.
“I liked how the whales circled the islands,” Olivia said. “At the end, the author’s note said we could write something about whales being funny with their blowholes.”
She and her friend Ilana Sinclair are trying to write a book.
“Maybe if we write a really good story,” Olivia said, “it could be published. Ilana is a really good illustrator.”
She also has written a poem, about hearts. It reads, in part: “I have something to tell you. It’s all about a heart. If you don’t seem to have one, your life will fall apart.”
Third-graders will compete in a writing project inspired by Van Dusen’s book “If I Built a Car” by gathering information about the Earth and then writing a book, “If I Built an Earth.”
The third-graders also will have the opportunity to design and create cars from recycled materials at home. The creations will be part of the Feb. 12 presentation.