Henry! You're late again!
Want to be an author?
Take something unexpected in your life and turn it into something good, children’s book author Mary Bleckwell challenged New Richland Hartland Ellendale Geneva (NRHEG) Elementary School students.
The Northfield author visited over 400 NRHEG Elementary School students just before school was to be let out for the summer.
She spent an entire day speaking to the respective elementary classes. Her mission was to promote literacy, reading and writing.
Bleckwell’s appearance was made possible by third grader Dominic Olson who attended a writing workshop last March and signed up for an opportunity to have Bleckwell come to his school. She typically charges for her presentations but this one was free, courtesy of Dominec.
School media specialist Sara Misgen helped arrange Bleckwell’s visit to the media center. A former elementary teacher and school administrator, Bleckwell utilized her teaching techniques to tell students what goes into the process of writing a children’s book. This writer sat in on Bleckwell’s presentations to three classes of fifth graders totaling 75. Her talk centered around three children’s books she has authored, “Henry! You’re late AGAIN!” “Henry! You’re hungry AGAIN!” and “Claire’s Hair.”
During her presentation, author Bleckwell made certain she involved her listeners in her chronology of becoming an author.
She talked about “all of life” having unexpected moments. “I did not plan on being an author,” she confessed. She then asked fifth graders “to turn and talk” to their neighbor and relate something unexpected in their lives that turned into something good.
A student shared having broken an arm and having the cast taken off before a family wedding. Another student talked about taking an infant to a hospital and being treated successfully.
Bleckwell told of her experience of going on a family vacation to Hawaii. She said the trip was interrupted in Hawaii when she was hospitalized to have an emergency appendectomy.
During her hospitalization, Bleckwell had time to read and write. This is when she used her imagination and love for writing to create some ideas for a children’s book.
On her website, Bleckwell’s biography reads: “As a child growing up on a dairy farm in northeast Iowa, Mary loved school but had nightmares about not getting up in time to make the bus.
“She did make it to school every day and has created Henry, an imaginative first grader, who-in Bleckwell’s first book, is in a predicament every morning as his family just can’t seem to get him to school on time. . .” In Bleckwell’s second book, Henry has a new problem. He is hungry so he eats and wonders why he doesn’t feel big and strong after eating all that junk food.”
Bleckwell uses years of teaching experiences and stories from children, to create “touching tales that will resonate with every child from 3 to 93,” her biography continues.
Grabbing a magic wand, Bleckwell illustrated that writing doesn’t just happen using some magic words to create a book.
“I practice writing and you should practice writing often,” Bleckwell told the engaged fifth graders.
She said her first book on Henry took her six years to write. Her hospital stay in Hawaii forced her to write down her ideas. “Ideas are never wasted and no idea is worthless,” Bleckwell believes.
“Great ideas come from our own ideas and experiences,” Bleckwell explained. Being a farmer’s daughter, she said she had many experiences from which to draw.
The author said she writes her manuscripts on the computer but does all her editing by hand. She then sends out a query to see if a publisher is interested in putting her ideas into print.
After finding a publisher, Bleckwell says she sends her writing to an editor who makes suggestions for changes. From there, the book goes to an illustrator. Her books are illustrated by Brian Barber of Duluth.
Bleckwell said her first Henry book won six awards for humor and illustrations. “Claire’s Hair,” her third book, was released last January. Some of her book characters are her nieces and nephews. She now has plans for a new Henry book. “I concentrate on the characters when writing a book,” she said.
Bleckwell asked for volunteers to help her develop her characters. Georgia Zimtrich dressed up as Miss Timberlane, a Henry book character and Gavin Sletten played the role of Henry.
Students listened intently as Bleckwell told about developing a book design, proofreading the text and then sending it to a printer. She showed students what the printing plates looked like and how she uses four colors of ink: black, blue, yellow and red.
“The results are a miracle,” she said. Most kids picture books have 32 pages, she said. She continued to explain the process involving dummying the layout, folding and gathering it, trimming it and boxing it up for the publisher.
“Happy reading, happy writing and happy summer,” Bleckwell concluded her talk, inviting students to have books signed by her. Bleckwell’s appearance in Ellendale was her finale for the school year. She soon will be contacting other schools seeking interest in her career as a writer.