Pupils plot welcome that charms author

April 26, 2002|By Lisa Breslin | Lisa Breslin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

As a visiting author, Margaret Peterson Haddix has been welcomed to schools in many creative ways.

Middle-schoolers in Worthington, Ohio, transformed the mother of two into an eighth-grader, complete with gum to smack and a school T-shirt. They were fans of her novel Turnabout, about "unaging."

In Granville, Ohio, students bellowed cheers: "Who's the writer that we love? Haddix, H-A-D-D-I-X, Haddix."

After this week, Haddix said, East Middle School joins the others on her "Most Memorable Welcome" list.

Six pupils and media specialist Laurie Walters escorted the author through a progressive dinner around town Wednesday night that ended with a limousine ride to the historic Antrim Inn in Taneytown for dessert and an evening tour.

Haddix, who hails from Columbus, Ohio, spent yesterday at the Westminster school signing autographs, sharing writing tips, and telling pupils about the origins of her story ideas.

"Writing is difficult, but it is also magical," Haddix told the pupils. "Getting that first spark, finding the right words, that is indeed magical, mystical - almost sacred."

Haddix has published 10 books, including Running out of Time, Just Ella, Among the Hidden and Among the Imposters. Those books have earned several literary awards, including Best Book for Young Adults by the Library Association. Five more books have been written, but not released, pupils learned.

Her novel Among the Betrayed is scheduled for a June release, but East Middle School bargained with Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing and got advance copies in honor of Haddix's visit. Several pupils who had read the new book told Haddix that they thought it was the best in the series, and Haddix welcomed their early reviews.

Haddix's juvenile fiction covers an array of topics. She has written a time-travel novel, two futuristic novels, a realistic novel about parental abandonment and abuse, and one about a protagonist who breaks away from religious extremists.

Haddix's visit was the main incentive dangled before pupils who participated in the annual readathon. Pupils Matt Waybright, Jacob Schaeffer and Maggie Miller escorted Haddix through the progressive dinner because they logged in the most reading time and were the grand-prize winners. Each got to invite a friend: that's how Vincent Sessa, Zac Slone and Brittany Fritz joined the Wednesday night festivities.

"With most reading contests, kids get prizes that will get tossed to the side. This was a wonderful experience instead," said Lisa Fritz, mother of Brittany. "Meeting the author gets the students' interest going. Brittany couldn't wait to get more books and read them."

The price tag for Haddix's visit was about $1,200, plus airfare and hotel costs, said Walters, who has brought other authors to East Middle School. Her trip was paid with money from the readathon.

"No one has ever said to my face that this is not money well spent," said Walters. "We all enjoy the enthusiasm for reading that builds around the author's visit. Even after the author is long gone, students crave the books and continue reading."

"We talked about summer vacations and she told us how she liked to skip her farm chores and ride her bike with her brother to a bridge and read," said Brittany Fritz.

Haddix spent her early years on a farm outside Washington Court House, Ohio. She graduated from Miami University of Ohio, and has worked as a newspaper reporter, a teacher and a free-lance writer.

Working as a reporter gave Haddix ideas for her first three novels, she said, and reporting made her more tolerant of the imperfections in her writing.

"Many of us have the tendency to think that the first sentence has to be perfect, but journalists learn they can't have that attitude. With deadlines, there is not enough time."

Haddix lives in Columbus with her husband, Doug, a newspaper editor, and their children, Meredith, 7, and Connor, 9. Haddix tries not to travel too much because she enjoys time at home with her family.

"I usually accept one or two invitations a year, based on my schedule and based on the enthusiasm of the request, and the invitation to come to East Middle was very enthusiastic," Haddix said.

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