Author captivates school children

March 23, 1993|By Carol L. Bowers | Carol L. Bowers,Staff Writer

Sally Foster may be 55, but she hasn't forgotten what it is to be a child: to look at every new experience with wonder and a sense that adventure lies just around the corner.

Although she has never married, and has no children of her own, the Baltimore-born author captures the essence of what it means to be a child in her works.

Her zest for life -- and an ability to play string games like Cat's Cradle and walk on stilts -- won the undivided attention of students at Davidsonville Elementary School yesterday as she talked about her latest children's book: "The Private World of Smith Island."

The book, due out in May, is her fourth solo effort as both photographer and writer. In it, she chronicles the lives of children and other residents of the island.

Or perhaps chronicles isn't the right word. Maybe participates, as in this passage:

"Come. It's time to go 'minnering.' Minnering is a favorite pastime with youngsters on Smith Island. Troy, Leslie Faye and Rochalla have their Mason jars, string, and the most important ingredient -- bread. . . . The children tear off hunks of bread and stuff them into the jars. Then they tie string onto their jars and toss them into the water. They wait. Nothing happens. Impatient, Troy pulls his trap and throws it out again. 'Minner, minner, come catch your dinner,' the children chant."

You can tell she was there with the children, and enjoying it as much as they were.

"To be out and doing things is much more fun," Miss Foster said.

During her visit she described for the first-graders the ins and outs of publishing, how to submit ideas to an editor and how the pictures and words are put together.

But many of the children were most impressed by her book "Simon Says . . . Let's Play," a book that describes various children's games, ranging from Blind Man's Buff to Statues.

Slides of photos she used in the book flash on the screen at the front of the class, until she comes to one with a little boy trying, without much success, to walk on stilts.

"This kid had the stilts, but he didn't know how to use them," Miss Foster told the boys and girls. "But I hadn't forgotten."

Remembering that the simple things in life are often the best is the message that both the books and the lady send.

Miss Foster eschews business cards, doesn't own a microwave, and still writes on an electric typewriter. "I should have lived 250 years ago," she said.

"I do things for the experience," added Miss Foster.

She has cooked potato chips and stripped tobacco leaves with the Amish, who allowed her to photograph them in her book "Where Time Stands Still."

"I like helping people and working with them, rather than keeping my distance with a camera," she explains. A drama major in college, she's been a newspaper reporter, a Peace Corps volunteer, and a free-lance writer and photographer.

She became interested in children's books in 1973 when she and Linell Smith, a reporter for The Sun, collaborated on a book, "Who's Who at the Zoo." Miss Foster took the photographs.

The book didn't find a publisher until 1983.

When it came time for a second book, Miss Foster didn't have a collaborator handy.

"It's like you're at the airport with your bags all packed and your best friend doesn't show up," Miss Foster told the children. "Do you go on the trip or go home and unpack your bags?"

She took the trip. Or, as Robert Frost put it in her favorite poem "The Road Not Taken:" "I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference."

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