PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Maine children’s author-illustrator Lisa Jahn-Clough recently spent three days at Zippel Elementary School not only sharing her experiences and insights as an author, but also encouraging students to write.
According to fourth-grade teacher Mary Graham, who also serves as the school’s librarian, this was the first time an author has visited every single classroom and worked with the more than 350 students.
“We’ve been saving up our book fair money for a big project and I told our principal that my goal was to bring an author in for two or three days, and at the end of that time, hopefully, have all of the kids inspired so that they will write one of their own stories and we’d put those stories together as a collection,” said Graham. “I wanted a Maine author and found Lisa online and when I looked at her website, I realized that she took incidents from her childhood and made them into books. She also illustrates her own books, and I thought, ‘This is the perfect fit for what we want to do.’
Jahn-Clough lives between Portland and Savannah, Ga., and has a temporary teaching job in New Jersey.
“Lisa did 12 hour-long sessions throughout her three-day visit, so all students in grades three-five had the opportunity to learn from her,” Graham said. “She has been amazing at inspiring our kids to write their stories. I noticed we had several kids coming up to her saying, ‘I went home last night and wrote this for the book,’ so she’s really gotten them excited about writing.”
Known for such books as “Little Dog,” “Missing Molly” and “Alicia Has a Bad Day,” Jahn-Clough shared with students how she began writing as a child.
“I talk about how I started and the kinds of stories and drawings that I did when I was little and how that led to a lot of what I do as a grown-up,” she said, noting that much of her work is autobiographical. “I tell them how important it is to be persistent, and that sometimes there’s rejection and even failure, but if you don’t keep trying, it’s not going to happen. That’s one thing that I do with a lot of my books; I’ll write a version and it doesn’t work and I’ll rewrite it, and I show the students a lot of the revisions, and talk a little about the process of getting published.
“I hope the students become inspired about working on things that they like doing — not necessarily becoming writers or artists — but finding out what they want to do and enjoying it,” said Jahn-Clough, “and finding a way to make it work.”
Fifth-grader Carter Trombley said he had fun meeting the author.
“She read us her new book [“Felicity & Cordelia: A Tale of Two Bunnies”] and told us about her life,” he said. “She’s a good writer.”
Trombley said he was unsure what he would write for his own story for the class collection.
“I haven’t really tried writing much,” he said. “I think it will be fun though.”
Third-grader Destiny Carson said it was “cool” having an author visit her classroom.
“I’ve never met an author before; that doesn’t happen every day,” she said. “[When it comes to writing our stories] she told us to think about something that we like to do, so I wrote about how to make a snowman. I write once in a while. It was kind of tricky; I struggle in spelling so my friend had to help me, but I think it turned out well.”
Natalie Bates, a fifth-grader, said she, too, enjoys writing.
“I have to write for school, but I also like to write in my free time. I usually write about something that’s happened in my life,” she said. “For the book we’re going to publish, I wrote about how I had a friend who moved away and how I wanted her to come back and how I got over it. Sometimes I write about my traveling. I travel a lot with my family; we’ve even been to Puerto Rico.
“I want to be a children’s author-illustrator when I grow up because you can draw pictures that don’t have to look so realistic,” said Bates. “It was nice meeting Mrs. Jahn-Clough. I learned a lot from her including to plan out your writing before you start.”
This was the first time Jahn-Clough has worked with an entire school.
“I’ve done workshops with first- and second-graders or fourth- and fifth-graders, but never done all grades in one school,” she said. “It’s great. This is one of my better school visits. Having been here for three days, when I walk down the hall the kids smile at me and wave and treat me like a rock star. As soon as I walked in I saw signs that the students made welcoming me to the school and it just touches my heart. Mrs. Graham and the other teachers have done a lot to prepare the students and it’s been wonderful.”
The student work will be collected by April 1.
“I want to make sure we have time to print the book and have every single student get a free copy by the end of the school year,” said Graham. “The story and illustrations are limited to one page per child, and Staples will be binding them for us. The cost of the printing is coming from the money we’ve raised through our book fair, and we may have some help from the PTO if we’re cutting it close. They’ve already agreed to help us out with the publishing of the book.”