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Middle schoolers see how writing is a process

December 9, 2017 GMT

DeKALB – Middle schoolers might think they know the pain of writing, but students at Clinton Rosette Middle School got to see what goes into writing a whole book Friday when Rebecca Caudill’s nominated author, Shelley Pearsall, came to visit.

When a student asked how long it takes to write a book – Pearsall has written six – she thought it would be better to show the process. She grabbed a manuscript from the table and held it up to show.

“When you see a book, it’s all dressed up and with makeup on,” she said. “When I see a book, this is what I see.”

Pearsall placed that first draft into the hands of a student. And then added the copies of the next several drafts, amounting to 10 pounds of paper.

For other books, she showed them the stacks of paper, up to eight drafts, she went through to get to the final product that landed on bookshelves.

“I like to give the kids a realistic view of the writing process,” she said. She wants them to know that the steps they have to take aren’t just because their teachers want to make them do work, but that it’s actually how writing is done.

Pearsall’s latest book, “The Seventh Most Important Thing,” is on the Rebecca Caudill Master List for 2018. Students across Illinois between fourth and eighth grade vote on books from the list to receive the Rebecca Caudill Award.

Two sixth-grade language arts teachers, Rachel Honeyman and Krista Jones, had won a grant that helped pay for Pearsall to speak at the school.

Principal Tim Vincent said it was a big deal to get the author to visit the school.

Pearsall used to work as a teacher, but harbored dreams of being an author from the time she was young. From her home in Parma, Ohio, in the Cleveland suburbs, she wrote stories, and, by the time she was 13, had written a picture book she sent out for publication.

It was rejected, but she received a personal letter of encouragement from the editor, and she didn’t know who it was until years later.

“When my first book was really published, I looked up that first editor and learned she was one of the biggest editors in New York City in the ’70s,” Pearsall said. The letter was from Jean Karl, who had edited writers such as Ursula K. LeGuin and E.L. Konigsburg. The letter, with its encouragements, is now framed along with other rejection letters Pearsall has received over the years. She said she keeps them for encouragement.

“When you get rejected, my advice to you is to put it on a poster,” she said.

Pearsall has written six young adult books that cover a wide variety of topics, from World War II paratroopers to Elvis impersonators – she would teach the students some of Elvis’ signature dance moves – and art.

She warned the students that she might be taking some stuff from DeKalb and putting it into a book later. A lot of the names and stories she uses in her books come from school visits, she said, and she was fascinated with DeKalb’s connection with barbed wire.

“I love that your school is called the ‘Barbs,’ ” she said. “I might use that in a book I’m working on right now.”

Pearsall said she wanted students to be creative, and held up a lightbulb as an example. What other things could it be? Students shouted out suggestions – a pear, a hot air balloon, a doorknob. An idea.

She said once kids get away from technology, they’ll see things.

“I want kids to see there are wonderful ideas all around, but we have to notice them,” Pearsall said.