Revealing wonders of Assateague

Author of 3 books on the island urges pupils to pay a visit


How many of you have been to Assateague, author Larry Points asked the youngsters who were sitting cross-legged on the floor in the media center of Clemens Crossing Elementary School.

About half the children raised their hands.

Then he asked how many of the kindergartners, first-graders and second-graders had been to Ocean City. Many more hands stretched in the air.

Points, co-author of several children's books about Assateague and the former chief of park interpretation at the Assateague Island National Seashore, urged the children to visit the island next time they were in Ocean City. It's only eight miles away, he told them.

Points, who lives in Delmar and wrote the books with Andrea Jauck, was visiting the Columbia school Thursday as part of a program funded by parent donations and organized by Tom Brzezinski, the school's media specialist.

The program, in its seventh year, brings writers and illustrators to the school. In past years, these have included Caldecott-winning illustrator Jerry Pinkney and Michelle Y. Green, author of A Strong Right Arm about Mamie "Peanut" Johnson, one of the three women to play baseball in the Negro leagues.

Brzezinski said he wanted Points to talk to the pupils because he knows many children visit the Eastern Shore.

"I had seen Larry's book on Assateague, and I said, `Here is a fascinating topic, a beautifully photographed book about a place that would be ideal for families as far as a field trip,'" he said.

Three sessions of pupils heard Points speak during the day.

Points happened to be at Clemens Crossing on Read Across America Day, and the pupils started the first hourlong assembly by singing happy birthday to "Dr. Seuss."

But first-grade teacher Renee Holdefer noted another reason why the timing was on target. Pupils in all grades at Clemens Crossing had recently finished writing and illustrating their own books for an annual schoolwide project called Paw Print Press.

The books will be bound and returned to the children. Classrooms will hold celebrations, allowing the pupils to read out loud to an audience of teachers and family members.

"We've been heavily into this process," Holdefer said. "This is perfectly timed. This is really fabulous that they get to meet a professional author."

Points spoke about the wonders of Assateague and the creatures that call it home, including birds and wild horses, but he also spoke about writing books. He described the process of working with a designer to make the pages look interesting, and he explained that all writers do revisions.

"I can tell you that when your teachers say to write something over again, you're going to want to do it because your book will get better and better," he said.

He also wove in advice about writing and organizing a book. "It has to have a beginning, a middle and an end," he said. He structured his book, Assateague - Island of the Wild Ponies, in the form of a year, starting with a photograph of a foal being born in spring and continuing through the months to winter, with photos of wild ponies burrowing through the snow for food.

And he noted the value of research. "If you want to do nonfiction books, that means what you are saying is true," he said.

As he spoke, Points narrated a slide show of photography from his books. In addition to the book about ponies, Points has written about birds in Barrier Islands Are for the Birds and about sand, shells and seashore plants in Ribbons of Sand - Exploring Atlantic Beaches.

After the slide show, he discussed some of the items he had brought with him, including clamshells, a plastic replica of a horseshoe crab and something called a mermaid's purse, which is an egg case for stingrays and skates.

Kane Jackson, 7, said he was especially interested in horseshoe crabs. He has been working hard to write and illustrate a book about dinosaurs, he said, and horseshoe crabs are nearly as interesting.

"It was kind of weird that the female is bigger than the male," he said. "And the fact that they've been around 3 million years."

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