Visiting author Hahn is a hit with East Middle pupils


April 19, 1999|By Lisa Breslin | Lisa Breslin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

IF THEY WEREN'T big fans of children's author Mary Downing Hahn before, many East Middle School pupils are now.

Last week the author, best known for creating chilling thrillers as well as books about teen-agers' struggles with peers and parents, shared secrets about her life and writing career.

She talked with about 200 pupils who either participated in the middle school's Read-A-Thon or wrote book reviews of one of Hahn's books.

Three pupils who pulled in the most pledges during the school's Read-A-Thon -- Brittany Nycum, Sean Henn and Brittany Crass -- each got to invite one lucky friend for a limousine tour of Westminster and dinner at Johanssons with Hahn and Laurie Walters, media specialist at East Middle. Nicole Rosenthal, Nicole Henn and Elizabeth Krouse were the friends selected.

Listening to Hahn was "inspiring," said seventh-grader Jamie McConnell. "Even though her first book took a lot of revisions before it was accepted, she kept trying. I want to be a writer too, and now I might try to send out some of the books I've written."

Anthony Fabrick, another seventh-grader, lingered in the library after most of the pupils had filed out. He listened to a few pupils chat with Hahn and then asked the author, "Will you sign my hand?"

At the end of the day, Hahn conducted a writer's workshop with a small group of pupils who had written letters expressing an interest in her work or the writing process. The author's visit and the evening excursion were the beginning of the school's Visiting Authors Program.

Pupils learned that though Hahn has always been an avid reader, her first love was illustrations. She cherished Robert McCloskey's drawings -- specifically, illustrations for "Homer Price" -- because of their detail and realism.

As a youngster, she said, she spent lots of time illustrating covers on school reports, hoping they would inch her grades up.

"What I found out, though, was that teachers would separate the final grade and give me an A+ for illustrations and a B, sometimes lower, for the written work," Hahn said.

Hahn shared the pains of constant revision and the joy of what she calls "serendipity books" -- books that come from ideas she never actively searched for or expected to find.

"Wait Till Helen Comes: A Ghost Story" is one of Hahn's serendipity books -- and one of the most popular among East Middle School pupils.

"Several years ago, our school was the site for a conference which featured four authors," said Walters. "Students from all over the county came here on a Saturday to visit with them. When I saw the students' enthusiasm, I knew that a permanent Visiting Authors Program was something I wanted to do.

"A lot of students have read Mary Downing Hahn's books, and they appeal to both boys and girls, so I figured she would be a crowd-pleaser," Walters said.

Geography bee finals

West Middle School sixth-grader Peter Wolfinger and three other Carroll County pupils held their own during the Maryland Geography Bee finals this month.

Peter, Matthew Wolf (William Winchester), Matthew Hughes (North Carroll Middle), and Brad Dyjak (Oklahoma Road Middle) chalked this year's competition up as great practice for next year, after they were knocked out of a grueling, eight-round competition.

Pinpointing a place on a map represented only a fraction of the information these youngsters had to know; they answered questions about current events, culture, politics, history and many other areas related to countries.

"My hands were sweating for students I didn't even know," said Nancy Wolfinger, Peter's mother. "It was a lot of fun. The students had so much composure. They were all winners."

More than 100 pupils from 250 schools across the state competed at Towson University. The first-place winner, Zane Craig from Mother Seton School in Emmitsburg, Frederick County, moves up to the National Geography Bee in Washington, D.C., at the end of next month.

The winner of the national competition will receive a $25,000 college scholarship. The competition is sponsored by the National Geographic Society and Bank One.


Finksburg artist/potter Terry Whye will join her sister and writer, Kim Ports, to host a warm-up for Mother's Day this Saturday.

From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., the sisters will hold a workshop that "recovers, honors and celebrates our foremothers," Whye said.

Participants will decorate a keepsake box, discover the expressive art of clay and explore the playfulness of storytelling. They will experiment with creative writing and sample and exchange recipes passed down from grandmothers or circulated among friends.

The workshop will take place at Cedarhurst Unitarian Church on Club House Road in Finksburg. Admission is on a sliding scale.

Information: 410-374-9661.

Lisa Breslin's Central neighborhood column appears each Monday in the Carroll County edition of The Sun.

Pub Date: 4/19/99

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