How does a writer bring a book—and a book talk—to life? For award-winning children’s author Barbara O’Connor, it’s all about making hands-on, real-life connections. For her visit with Inly Upper Elementary students on this fall, O’Connor brought in an assortment of trinkets from her childhood, including a rhinestone poodle pin and a cardboard boat made from a Yoo-Hoo chocolate milk box. She talked with students about her writing process and inspiration, answered questions, and signed books.
All of these objects have a place in her stories and in her heart. Before reading relevant passages from How to Steal a Dog, Me and Rupert Goody, and The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis to small groups of Upper Elementary students, she held up the pieces of memorabilia that inspired them, telling quick anecdotes to explain the back story. She also showed slides of a pet cemetery in Alabama and other places that have found their way into her fiction.
“Taking real things and putting them in a made-up story is one of my favorite writing techniques,” she explained. “That’s how I can make stories sound real, by writing about what I know. And you can all do that too.” She talked about setting (most of her stories take place in the South, near the Smoky Mountains where she grew up), dialogue, point of view, and the most important thing of all: “Show, don’t tell!”
The author ended her talk by showing slides of her very first book: a remarkably detailed 76-page handwritten story titled “Just a Little Will Power.” O’Connor had produced this manuscript (complete with a table of contents and dedication page) at the age of 12 and uncovered it many years later in a box in her parents’ attic.
Since then the prolific writer has written—and published—many acclaimed books for children and young adults. She has been awarded the Parents’ Choice Gold and Silver Awards, the Massachusetts Book Award, the Kansas William Allen White Award, the South Carolina Children’s Book Award, the Indiana Young Hoosier Award, the South Dakota Children’s Book Award, and the Dolly Gray Award, among many honors.
During a Q&A session on one Upper Elementary student asked O’Connor to name her favorite book. “Greetings From Nowhere,” she replied. “There are four main characters with four points of view, so it was a challenge to write. But it’s my favorite.”
Another asked her to name the hardest book she’s ever written. “That’s easy,” she replied, “The Secret of Owen Jester—the one I’m publishing right now. It has nine main characters and nine points of view!”
The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester, due to release this fall, has already met with resounding applause from reviewers. The New York Times Book Review said, “O’Connor has perfect pitch in this comic adventure, which ends with a happy resolution everyone, even the frog, can live with.” School Library Journal’s starred review said, “This tale of summertime adventure will be a hit with readers year round.” Kirkus Reviews also gave the book a star and described it as “a lovely read that perfectly captures the schemes and plans of school-age kids in the long days of summer.”
For more information about her books, visit www.barboconnor.com.