Three groups of students got to speak with authors about their books during the Reading Extravaganza at Woodford County High School on March 30. It's an opportunity that WCHS librarian Mona Romine appreciates giving to students. It's also why she spent more than a year trying to get author Courtney C. Stevens to the Reading Extravaganza so she could talk to students - via Skype - about Faking Normal. "Her book is about troubled teens and that's always a popular topic (among teens). It always has been," said Romine. "There are books (about troubled teens) that have copyright dates in the '70s that we still check out" to students. English teacher Kellie Griffie said Stevens allowed students in their reading group to guide the discussion on a book "dealing with real-life issues in a school setting so it was very real to them," she wrote in an email. With the Renaissance always being a "high-interest unit" in her world history classes, teacher Davan Martinez and a group of her students were excited to talk with author David King so they could learn more about Olof Rudbeck and his theory that the origins of Greek civilization were in Sweden. "Learning about Rudbeck was so fascinating," wrote Martinez in an email, "because he had done so much and been given very little credit - something that bothers me..." Not only did her students get to talk to the author of Finding Atlantis, King brought a surprise with him - a first edition of Rudbeck's book "Atlantica," published in 1679. "Just being around something that old ... is a unique experience usually only possible in museums - and museums don't let you hold the books," said Martinez. When King invited her students to browse Atlantica's pages, student Michael Peake told him, "I'm afraid it's going to turn into dust when I touch it." Talking to King, a 1988 graduate of WCHS, also gave Michael and other students a chance to have a deeper understanding of the countless hours of research that go into writing a book about a Swede named Olof Rudbeck. And it was another opportunity for Martinez to talk with an author who writes nonfiction that "flows more like a story than a textbook." As an English teacher, Griffie said, "It's fascinating to learn about all of the details that go into producing a piece of writing. It was especially interesting to learn about where (author Courtney C. Stevens) gets her inspiration, and the process that she undertakes before reaching the final draft." "...it's important for the students to understand the process that a writer goes through before producing a finished product," Griffie said. New York City-based author Paul Valponi returned to WCHS - via Skype - for a third consecutive year to talk about his Game Seven with a group of students. "He is such a dynamic person. And I think (what's) so relatable about him (Valponi)," said Romine, "is his message..." Valponi often tells students how much he was like them in high school. He was not considered an exceptional student by his peers or teachers, and yet he still became an award-winning author. "So he inspires kids to reach out and go beyond, and he has actually taken poems that our students have written and published them on social media," said Romine. "He gives our students feedback on anything that they write ... He just takes the time to make a relationship with the kids, and I just think that's invaluable." Romine said a Reading Extravaganza group's adult facilitator (often a teacher or retired teacher) is asked to promote and encourage student-driven discussions. "You're reading for fun and then talking about it," said retired social studies teacher Susan Carey. "We often don't ever get the chance to do that when we pick up a novel." She described participating in a group discussion about a book as "the best part" of this experience. Carey said she was surprised by how much she enjoyed the book that Romine selected for her group because Salt to the Sea was told from four points of view. When students come by the library to pick up their books for the Reading Extravaganza, they often prefer a regular book - not an ebook - telling a story that "relates to those students, and really give them a reason to read," Romine said. With so many people using an iPad or other device to read short articles or news snippets, Carey said, "I worry about reading sometimes. Is it going by the wayside?" That's why she appreciates a WCHS tradition of celebrating books - and their stories - at the annual Reading Extravaganza, which former librarians Cheryl Hill and Deanna Dinnis started in 2001. Asked why the event goes on year after year, Carey said, "The kids enjoy it, and it's fun."
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