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Children in the Family Dinner Book Club at Marshall Elementary School try on some silly expressions as they celebrate a love of reading with author David Teague.
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.
Move this whole section up, swapping places with the section above it.
UD faculty member David Teague talks about his new book and about the process of writing with fifth-graders and their parents at Thurgood Marshall Elementary School.
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
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.