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Dinner and a book

UD faculty author Teague reaches out to young readers and parents

When David Teague looks out at the rapt faces of fifth-graders eager to talk with him — an actual author! — at a reading of his latest book, he sees much more than today’s potential customers. He sees the University of Delaware students of tomorrow.

“The best thing about the chance to visit schools as an author is that it adds a dimension to my role as a UD literature professor,” says Teague, who teaches English in the University’s Associate in Arts Program in Wilmington.

“I often wish, when working with a college freshman or sophomore, that I'd had a chance to meet him or her earlier, to introduce books at a younger age, to instill literacy and a love of literature during a more formative time, and now I get the chance to do that.”

Teague, who recently told a group of young readers that he had written 49 books before getting one published, has had a great deal of success since the 2010 debut of that picture book, Franklin’s Big Dreams. This December, Disney-Hyperion released his The Red Hat, for children from about ages 3-7.

In between those two works, Teague collaborated with his wife, New York Times bestselling author Marisa de los Santos, on two books for middle-school-age readers, Saving Lucas Biggs and Connect the Stars.

Teague brings his experience as an author to his teaching at UD and says it benefits students, even if they have no plans to write children’s books, as they learn the craft of writing. And in the outreach he does with children, he serves as a kind of ambassador, not just for reading but also for the University.

“I tend to make [as many as] 40 school, library and community center visits each year to read and discuss my books, and at every school, I make sure to mention that I expect to see all the audience members at UD in a few years,” he says.

One recent example of his outreach to young readers is the Family Dinner Book Club program he developed with Nancy Ventresca, who teaches in the Advanced Academic Program in the Christina School District’s Thurgood Marshall Elementary School near Newark, Delaware.

The biweekly activity in November and December has brought eight fifth-graders and their families to the school at 6 p.m. for pizza and discussions about Connect the Stars with its author, who told the participants, “We decided that two of the best things in life are books and pizza, so here we are.”

Ventresca said that offering dinner, and the opportunity to bring along younger siblings to the meetings, has made the program much more accessible for parents to fit into their families’ hectic evening schedules. A small grant from the College of Arts and Sciences has supported the outreach project.

The children read the book on their own in installments in preparation for the opportunity to talk about it with one another and with Teague. At the club’s first meeting, he introduced himself and told the audience about his writing process, especially those books he has written with de los Santos.

“Writing goes faster with a partner, but sometimes the two of you have different ideas, so that can also be a problem,” he told the youngsters. “We gave our characters a problem to solve, and we made it a serious one. … As a writer, you take your main character and you do mean things to him, because he has to learn and grow.”

In Connect the Stars, each of the two main characters tells the story from his or her point of view in alternating chapters. The plot moves forward, Teague said, something like a relay race.

Both the children and many of their parents said they were enjoying the book. Many of the youngsters had previously read Lucas Biggs and peppered Teague with questions about that story as well.

When the author asked if any children in the audience wanted to be writers, several hands went up. That makes sense, Teague told them: “Usually people who like to read like to write,” he said. “My wife and I think that books are the best things ever.”

More about the outreach project

The book club at Marshall Elementary was designed by Teague and Ventresca as a pilot program that they hope spreads to other schools.

“The Family Dinner Book Club aims to place reading in a family context,” according to a proposal for the outreach project. “Because parents are often children’s first and most influential teachers, and because family culture strongly dictates a child’s intellectual values, The Family Dinner Book club hopes to create a setting that nurtures and encourages reading.”

The project also serves as a way to encourage families to begin thinking about post-secondary education while their children are still young and to motivate children to aspire to attending college. Specifically, the program hopes to create connections with UD.

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