Monday, November 12, 2018
Cristina Cabrera Jarro
Photography: CRISTINA CABRERA-JARRO
SOUTHWEST RANCHES | What if Snow White never ate the poisoned apple: Would she still have lived happily ever after?
Author Sarah Mlynowski pondered those questions when she wrote “The Fairest of Them All,” the first in her series of “Whatever After” books. Her answer is yes, but with a twist, thanks to two siblings, Abby and Jonah, who fall into the classic fairy tale and interrupt the well-known story.
Mlynowski shared her storytelling insights during a visit to St. Mark the Evangelist School last month. Her visit was half of the school’s prize for winning first in the Spring 2018 National Elementary School Scholastic Book Fair contest. The other half: a giant check for 2,000 Scholastic dollars.
This is the second time the school wins first place, having also won six second places and one President’s Award for outstanding parent volunteers.
“For about two weeks, we live and breathe the book fair,” said Sandy Garcia, media specialist at St. Mark. “Our book fairs stand out because our goal is to get great books into the hands of kids and it is a total schoolwide effort and adventure.”
The adventure part was taken literally earlier this year when the school took the book fair theme, “Paws for Books,” and added, “It’s raining cats and dogs and good books.” Students and faculty created felines and canines of every size and stripe and decked out the hallways and doors with their images. Also on display: photos of students and faculty reading with their favorite pet.
“Decorations are a big thing,” said Samantha Borz, a fifth grader and Junior Crew book fair volunteer. “Little kids are attracted to cute and cool-looking things. I feel like if they saw the big posters outside of the library, with the door closed in anticipation, they would get really excited.”
Dressing the part was also a factor in attracting people to the book fair, with participants donning kitty ears and whiskers or floppy dog ears. At the grand opening, a representative of the Humane Society of Broward County provided a furry encounter by bringing a canine companion; the Davie Police K-9 Unit visited on another occasion, providing third graders with a demonstration of their dogs in action.
But the focus of all the excitement were the books.
“I most look forward to seeing students’ faces when they see all the new and exciting books for sale and they get to purchase some of them. Then when they come back to tell me what they’ve read and how much they’re enjoying the books, it’s the icing on the cake,” said Garcia.
Endless electronic distractions keep kids – and adults – from picking up books these days, which is why Garcia says it is vital now, more than ever, to keep students interested in reading and indulge their literary cravings.
“They enjoy turning the pages, looking at the illustrations, and literally becoming engulfed in the story. It is evident when they miss library for a week, and get upset because they didn’t get to go, and then bug their teachers to send them down to get books,” said Garcia.
“I do think kids love to read, and it’s such a break from the screens,” said Mlynowski, author of 35 books including the Whatever After series, the Upside Down Magic series, and more. “I’m always encouraging my kids to read, and if they’re not into a book, I encourage them to pick something else.”
While she loves to write, Mlynowski’s passion for writing matches her passion for reading. She carves out time to read with her two daughters.
“I try to read all the new middle grade kids’ books that are out, and it’s fun because I have a 9-year-old, so we get to read things at the same time. I feel like there’s so much more diversity now,” she said, citing strong female characters, adventure stories, and books about anything that people want to know about.
She said she loves the classics, as well as book series like The Babysitter’s Club, and authors such as Judy Blume and Gordon Korman. Growing up, one of her favorite books was “This Can’t Be Happening at Macdonald Hall,” written by Korman, whose visit to her school sparked her calling to be a writer. Years later, she sat on a panel with him at a convention and shared that story.
“I’m hoping that one day, some of you guys will become writers. I hope you will be sitting next to me on a panel one day and you can tell me when you remember me coming to your school,” Mlynowski told St. Mark’s students.
And as for writing advice, she keeps her rules simple: “There are no wrong answers, and you have to write all of your ideas down or you’re going to forget them,” she said. But most importantly, “The key to writing is making it come from you.”