by Valerie Verkamp
More than 800 elementary school students from five schools gathered in Park University's Academic Underground facility Tuesday to meet local authors and dive into the writing process for the university's annual River Read Children's Literacy Festival.
This is the 10th consecutive year Park has invited students to the Parkville campus to explore literature and develop their writing skills. With 820 school-age children attending this year's event, this is by far the largest literacy event hosted at the university.
Kathy Howe, director of the River Read Children's Literacy Festival, said she hopes the event will inspire students in the North Kansas City and Hickman Mills school districts to start dreaming big now.
“We want students to not only see that being a Park Pirate is a very viable and realistic opportunity in their future but also to demonstrate that writing or illustrating books is not a mystery. If they have an interest and ideas or can draw or sketch, then they can write or illustrate stories,” said Howe.
And who better to encourage impressionable young minds than 17 local authors who spent the day submerging low-income students in the writing process. Topics of discussion ranged from writing a compelling story with a magical element to finding ideas to write historical fiction and other genres.
Local author Jeana Tetzlaff told a group of third graders at Maplewood
Elementary School that her best ideas for fictional stories were generated from her imagination.
“A lot of what I write comes from my imagination,” said Tetzlaff. “I love my job as a novelist because I can use my imagination and not get into trouble. I want students to know that it is okay for them to use their imagination to come up with their own fictional and nonfictional stories.”
When Tetzlaff asked students if they like to use their imagination to boost happiness and inspiration, as many as 15 students raised their hand to acknowledge their shared joy in tapping into their creativity.
Like many authors Tetzlaff began writing to tell stories about the places, people and pets she either adored or caused her angst.
In her short story Sounds of the Spirit Wolf published in a book titled October Nightmares and Dreams, Tetzlaff let her imagination run wild about her grandma's historic two-story farmhouse that caused her fright as a young child.
More recently, Tetzlaff finished a juvenile non-fiction book titled Everything You Need to Know About Sexual Assault.
“Children face a lot of challenges in adolescents,” said Tetzlaff. “I feel it is an important to provide relevant information during this incredible time in their life.”
Author Debra McArthur shared her personal journey writing historical novels, like A Voice for Kanzas.
“I use my own little time machine in my mind to travel to different places in time,” said McArthur. “A
Voice for Kanzas is set in 1855 in Kansas Territory. I asked myself: What would it be like to live there? What would it be like to experience those events?”
McArthur said she uses her imagination as inspiration in her stories.
McArthur also told students to write the kind of stories they like to read and suggested finding an audience.
“It might be their peers, their teacher or just someone they admire that can help them with their writing,” said McArthur. “But I think it is important for young people to receive encouragement, especially as they are beginning the writing process.”
McArthur, who has been a participant in the event for the past decade, said the event “nourishes the part of them that loves books and reading.”
But simplest of all, readers at the event connect with writers.
“Children may love stories and books, but they never connect with the person behind those words. It is just a product that they see in their hands. When kids tap into their own creative process and begin to write stories for themselves, they become more curious.”
Mrs. Schneider, a third grader teacher at Maplewood Elementary, said the event inspires students to be writers.
“Sometimes students struggle with the transfer between reading and writing,” said Schneider. “This event ignites their passion for writing.”