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‘Stinky Cheese Man’ author inspires young writers

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

Fourth-graders Mario Gonzalez and Anthony Toledo could hardly contain their excitement. The boys whispered to each other and paced the library at Coleman Elementary School on Wednesday, repeatedly circling back to a copy of “The True Story of the Three Little Pigs.”

He was coming! Jon Scieszka, the man who wrote “The True Story” and several other famous children’s books, was going to visit Coleman, on Dundee Avenue in Elgin, and Mario and Anthony were going to be the first students to meet him.

About 2 p.m., Scieszka’s small principal-picked welcoming crew led the author into the school’s cafeteria. There, Scieszka soon had a crowd of first- through third-graders rolling in laughter. Their teachers (including first-grade teacher Sandy Klein, who brought her own book to be signed) were clapping and holding their sides, too.

Scieszka told the group stories from his childhood, with anecdotes about what it was like to grow up with five brothers. He also read excerpts from his books “The True Story of the Three Little Pigs,” “The Stinky Cheese Man” and “Smash! Crash!” He wrapped up the talk with a message of encouragement to the students: If they want to be good writers and artists themselves, they needed to practice reading. That was the secret to how he got to be a good writer, Scieszka said.

Next, he spoke with older students and delivered a similar message: “The more books you read, the more books you can write.”

He told them the hardest part of writing is confronting a blank page, but that they already had what they needed to be a success — imaginations, their own life stories, and maybe a pencil.

Earlier Wednesday, Scieszka visited Sycamore Trails Elementary School in Bartlett.

The two schools beat out about 40 others in a contest to have him visit. Scieszka was named the first-ever National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature by the Library of Congress, according to the school district. Scieszka’s stop in District U46 was one of many in his tours around the country to raise awareness about the importance of children’s literature in supporting every intellectual and emotional development.

Hans Stiehl, a teacher in a fourth- and fifth-grade combined bilingual education classroom at Coleman, said he was overjoyed when he heard Scieszka would be visiting Elgin. Scieszka’s books, Stiehl said, are fun to read and have themes that easily translate into lessons.

Scieszka “is good at taking social issues, for example, and relating them to kids so we can make what we call life to text connections,” Stiehl said.

Stiehl’s class was one of the most enthusiastic of the groups that listened to Scieszka on Wednesday. Each student brought a book or a notebook that they wanted the author to sign, and the kids hung on the author’s every word.

To allow more students the opportunity to hear him, Scieszka also made a presentation at Elgin High School on Maroon Drive later Wednesday evening with a talk for families and community members.

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