blue spacer

Frisco Reads Hosts Two Guest Writers (November, 2005)

Eileen ChristelowEileen Christelow, who refers to herself as her readers do as The Monkey Lady, and Kimberly Willis Holt, who writes books for juvenile readers, were the guest authors for Frisco’s staff development event sponsored by Horace Mann Insurance and Frisco Education Foundation.

Christelow is known for her picture books, most notably the Five Little Monkey books. Holt writes for older readers and her most well-known character is Zachary Beaver, the world’s fattest teenager – whose story is at the center of a book about a summer in 1971 in a small Texas town titled “When Zachary Beaver Came to Town.”

The two ladies described their journey through the world of publishing and the creative process by which they write their books. For Christelow, who illustrates her books as well as writes them, much of her struggle was in finding her personal style. She decided to move from a career as a photographer and illustrator to children’s books as a young mother spending days in the library with her daughter. It was during those years she first thought of the five little monkeys as possible book material. The book was published at the time her daughter went to college. Holt described her method of character development in detail, sharing slides of her working notebooks where she selected names and physical characteristics of the people in her books.

Christelow chose to focus her talk on a book she has written after the Bush/Gore presidential elections. As a child she gave donkey rides as part of the campaign for Adelai Stephenson and has had an interest in politics ever since. Her book called “Vote” is the story of a family whose mother is running for mayor. It breaks down the democratic process for children and stresses the importance of voting and the fact that a person’s vote is their own choice. She even uses the family’s pets as part of the story. She said that when she visits schools and reads her book most students want to hold an election right then and there to simulate the election of the mother in the story and her opponent Mr. Brown.

Kimberly Willis HoltHolt’s sharing of her notebooks and working papers indicated that some of the writing techniques being taught in Frisco schools today actually work in the real world. She described writing a scene in her book using the technique of webbing – linking balloons of thought until a writer comes up with a fully developed idea. She also shared how she researches for books, describing spending days at the Claude, Texas library, the courthouse, and in a small café developing just the right words to describe the small Texas town for her book.

Anne Sheridan, librarian for Bright Elementary, noted that “a lot of the writing techniques she (Holt) described are used in our writing curriculum, particularly in fourth grade.”

Leigh Ann Jones, Facilitator of Media Services, was very pleased with the event. With the two very special authors “it was the best yet. On behalf of all the librarians, I would like thank Horace Mann and Frisco Education Foundation for making this fourth annual event possible.”

The event is used to help teachers and librarians understand more about the world of publishing and to help them develop ideas to encourage students to read more, by being able to explain to them how books are written.