Children's author Steve Swinburne urged West Hill Elementary School students to make a commitment: "Promise to be a good reader because good readers become good writers."
Swinburne visited the school Monday as one of a series of events designed to cap Rocky Hill School District's elementary summer reading program, called "Dream Big—READ”.
The author shared writing tips with students, as well as stories from his career and childhood. He encouraged them not to make the same mistake that he did when he was younger.
"Be smarter than Steve," he said.
The students appeared perplexed at the notion that they could be smarter than a prolific children's writer who has authored 26 books, but Swinburne explained the foolish decision he made in his youth.
"When I was a kid, I didn't read that much," he said.
Some students did not need any such encouragement. According to Principal Scott Nozik, several read more than 30 titles during the summer. The three most active readers in grades K - 5 each received an autographed copy of one of Swinburne's books.
While West Hill's voracious bookworms were consuming thousands of pages, Swinburne revealed that he had spent the summer writing his first novel, Wiff and Dirty George - The Z.E.B.R.A. Incident, based on himself and a childhood friend. The book is Swinburne's first foray into fiction.
Most of the author's works are about wildlife and nature. He showed students a black bear paw-print and played a recording of baby bears that he made while gathering information for his book Black Bear—North America’s Bear.
Swinburne delighted the children by showing humorous slides to accompany his presentation. He also sang and played the ukulele.
Several songs reinforced lessons about proper writing habits. "Get 'em Down. Fix 'em Up" stressed the importance of rough drafts and revision.
Swinburne also shared how writers obtain ideas for their stories: "We get them from our lives. Keep your eyes open and your ears on."
The Vermont-based author, who was born in England, spends several days each month making similar presentations to students at elementary schools throughout the country; when he is not on the road promoting the love of writing, Swinburne is at home practicing it.
"Tomorrow," he assured the kids, "I'll be home writing another book."