5 ways to head back to school

Our authors take us on a stroll through memory lane as they give us a glimpse into their lives as students.

Sherry Shahan back to school graduation 2From Vietnam

Being in high school during the tumultuous 1960s was insane. That was the time of the first Watts Riots and seemingly endless Vietnam War. We didn’t have cell phones, let alone text. My family only had one landline. No call-waiting or answering machine. I exchanged lengthy hand-written letters with my friends at school. (Usually composed during math.) When a guy in our crowd was drafted it seemed logical that I send juicy tidbits of our crowd’s shenanigans. (His letters have been in a tattered shoebox for nearly 50 years.) I believe those years of intense correspondence shaped me into the writer I am today. –Author Sherry Shahan

LauraHurwitzandbrother1950s or so back to school

Pictured: Author Laura Hurwitz with her brother in the 1950s

The summer between 5th and 6th grade my family moved to a different part of town, which meant going to a new school. While my reputation for being a shy nerd had been etched in stone at my old school, I had a shot at a clean slate. When I showed up at the bus stop wearing the back-to-school outfit my mother picked out, which included white socks and saddle shoes like Blanche DuBois, I found myself dependent upon the kindness of a stranger, Diana, who was a year older than me and exponentially cooler. She told me it would be a mistake to wear this outfit to school, as I would get made fun of. She suggested I take the socks off and hide them in a nearby hedge. Then, the second I got home from school, I should make my mother buy a pair of penny loafers for me. I followed her instructions, thereby surviving sixth grade. To this day I don’t know why she went out of her way to be kind to me, but I do know this: I was not an outcast because pretty, popular Diana was not a stereotype. –Laura Hurwitz

JolenePerry

Pictured: Author Jolene Perry in high school

When I was in high school, we had open campus for lunch. But the ability to leave during lunch didn’t do us much good because my high school was a small school out in the sticks. We’d attempted to make a Taco Bell run during lunch, but always missed the first ten minutes of fifth period because it was about fifteen miles away. The consolation? Near the end of the long road that our school sat on the end of was a fireworks stand with a gigantic gorilla out front. Lunch consisted of speeding down Hawk Lane, driving under the large gorilla while honking obnoxiously and then off-roading down the four-wheeler trailer, and into the middle of the creek at the bottom of the hill. We’d crawl out the windows of my truck into the bed and eat lunch with the creek water running around us. One of those very unique experiences that doesn’t feel unique until much later. And every time I drive by that fireworks stand, I remember high school lunch. –Jolene Perry

Felicia Chernesky first day of school 1969 smaller

Pictured: Author Felicia Sanzari Chernesky on the first day of school in 1969

Like most parents, this time each August I’m eager for the school year to arrive (cue that popular Staples commercial). Even as a young child I’d get butterflies anticipating those first September school days. I soon associated school bus rides with falling leaves and apple picking, and the harvest season came to signify bounty and new adventures in learning and independence. I remember the thrill of poring over a Scholastic book flyer and getting to choose one book myself! My first treasured selections: Happiness Is a Warm Puppy, by Charles Schulz, and the wonderfully silly Animals Should Definitely Not Wear Clothing, by Judi and Ron Barrett. The well-worn copies still populate our family bookshelves. Something resonated within my school and autumn-loving spirit when From Apple Trees to Cider, Please! came to fruition. I’m delighted to discover that the kinds of storytelling and artwork that nourished my love of reading and learning is growing within my own books! To all things there is a season—and I’m grateful to be finding my purpose and place. –Felicia Sanzari Chernesky

JJulesJuly2012

Pictured: Author Jacqueline Jules

In fourth grade, our teacher—a slim brunette in her early twenties—read aloud Robert Lawson’s Ben and Me: An Astonishing Life of Benjamin Franklin by His Good Mouse Amos. I remember the delight on my teacher’s face as she read Amos’s account of Benjamin Franklin’s illustrious career. Amos, the mouse, has such a strong personality in the book. I almost felt like I was in that fur hat whispering in Franklin’s ear and watching him attend political gatherings in France. Of course I knew that a mouse didn’t really provide the creative ideas for Franklin’s amazing success, but the mouse-size view of history was highly amusing. I loved sitting in my desk listening to the story come alive in my teacher’s lilting voice. She was always smiling when she read aloud. Enjoying Ben and Me as a group experience has stayed with me through the years. I can still see the image of my teacher, chuckling while she read in front of the class. In today’s world, there isn’t always time to read books aloud in the classroom. I am grateful that I grew up in a more relaxed educational era and could enjoy many classroom read alouds. It helped make me the reader (and writer) I am today. –Jacqueline Jules

What’s your favorite back-to-school memory?

5 ways to head back to school

5 ways to experience back to school

Our authors dive into their childhoods to describe a memorable school experience as you go back to school this fall.

Linda Joy with best friend Lori bus stop first day jr high

                                   Pictured: Author Linda Joy Singleton with best friend Lori                                       at the bus stop on the first day of junior high school.

While starting a new school year could sometimes cause anxiety, especially when my best friend was going to a different school, the one thing that made returning to school fun was my back-to-school shopping day with Mom. I have three siblings so going out with Mom alone was rare. Before school started every year, each of us kids went out individually to buy school supplies and have lunch with Mom. After buying paper, pencils, binders and a new outfit to wear on the first day of school, we’d climb up to the lunch counter at Woolworths and order burgers and fries. I think I enjoyed this special lunch more than getting new clothes. And I’d always end this fun outing with a milk shake for dessert. –Linda Joy Singleton

WhitneyStewart back to school

Pictured: Author Whitney Stewart as a young child

Back to school was always hard for me. I LOVED summer swimming and bike riding. And trips to the penny-candy store. But one thing made back to school fun—BOOK FAIRS! My mom is a big reader too, and she’d let me buy an armload of books at the fair. I could trade them for my allowance. I’d stack my new books on my desk and stare at them, dreaming of the stories I’d discover. I’d smell my books and run my hands over the clean pages. I’ve never lost that love of books—new or old. As long as the teachers let me read, I was a happy girl. –Whitney Stewart 

Nancy Viau ponytail school pic

Pictured: Author Nancy Viau as a child

I couldn’t wait to go back to school every September! I had my pencils sharpened, notebooks labeled, and my Scotch-plaid school bag packed and sitting at the front door by August 1st. I have very fond memories of my metal lunchbox, a favorite back-to-school item. After all, it was also Scotch-plaid like my school bag, and it came with a matching Thermos, which meant my mom trusted me with something that could shatter in an instant if dropped. I carried it like it was a glass goblet. When the first day came, I jumped out of bed the second I was called. I dove into my outfit (skirt, cardigan, knee socks, black and white saddle shoes), and skipped to the bus stop. No one was there, of course. I was always an hour early. That back-to-school enthusiasm never faded in high school or college. Always first in class and last to leave; I never wanted to miss a thing. –Nancy Viau

sarah lynn scheerger in 7th grade

Pictured: Author Sarah Lynn Scheerger in seventh grade

Middle school is a time of change. Changing classes, changing friends, changing bodies, changing “out” for P.E. (ugh.) One special part of my routine did not change. Our English teacher, Mrs. Moore, read out loud to us for the first fifteen minutes of every class period. I had English right after lunch, and I remember sitting in my seat, listening to the shushing sound of the air conditioner, and drinking in the story. It was one of my favorite parts of each day. I particularly remember her reading the book Tuck Everlasting out loud. After she read, she’d pause and ask us what we thought of the story. Good times. –Sarah Lynn Scheerger

Alison Ashley Formento back to school

Pictured: Author Alison Formento in first grade

When I do author visits, one of the throwback photos I share is my first grade school picture. The dress I’m wearing is made from a fabric with an autumn leaf print. I loved this dress because I felt like I was wearing a tree. I loved and still love climbing trees, hiking through a thick forest, and sitting under the shade of a tree to read a book. I was a daydreamer (I still am!) in school, often looking out of the classroom windows. It helped me focus to see the trees behind our school, especially when writing or tackling math problems. It’s no different now. If I gaze at the trees in my yard, or take a nice walk in my local park, I’m always more focused when I sit down to write.  –Alison Formento

What’s your favorite back-to-school memory?

5 ways to experience back to school

5 reasons to read Lilliput on your vacation

by author Suzanne Slade

I’m obsessed with nonfiction books. I like to read thick, technical science books for fun. I read piles of children’s nonfiction picture books to keep abreast of what’s on the market (and because I love them!) On the rare occasion when I do read fiction, it’s a refreshing treat, and I’m pleased to share a new fiction gem I enjoyed while on vacation this summer—Lilliput.

Lilliput cover

To become my official vacation read, Lilliput first had to earn a place in my suitcase. (Sidenote: After years of intensive training, my husband has converted me to a “ultra-light” packer, so this means there was room for only one book in my small bag.) The night before I was to leave on my trip I hadn’t selected a book yet; there were several on my nightstand I’d been wanting to read. I made the executive decision to read the first chapter of each to determine which one was worthy of the trip. Well, the first chapter of Lilliput (only seven pages) hooked me immediately, and it won the spot in my bag.

lilly1

  1. The book was so compelling I finished it long before I returned home from vacation. I love how the main character, Lily, is a great role model for young readers with her unwavering determination and kind nature, despite the constant challenges she faces while trying to make her way back home to Lilliput.
  2. Lilly2The giant villain, Lemuel Gulliver, who kidnapped Lily and held her hostage for proof of his discoveries, supplied wonderful humor—with just the right amount of evil. I enjoyed how the author developed this character, and found myself feeling a tad empathetic toward the giant as I learned of his hopes and disappointments.
  3. Then there’s Finn, the hero, who was trapped by a unique prison of his own, yet he looked beyond his dire circumstances and bravely helped Lily escape.
  4. lily3To top it all off, the illustrations by Alice Ratterree are outstanding! The details she included are incredible, and her lovely action-filled pictures have heart.
  5. In the book’s Afterword, the author, Sam Gayton, shares his initial hesitation to write a story based on characters from Jonathan Swift’s classic tale, Gulliver’s Travels, due to concerns about copyright infringement. He relates a charming family anecdote about how his mom allayed his copyright fears when she declared (with a mouth full of dry scone crumbs), “Miffs fin rer fubric fromay.” Translation—“Gulliver’s Travels is in the public domain.”

If you’re looking for a great read to finish off your summer vacation, especially before heading back to school, Lilliput is the perfect choice. This fresh, daring story about a small girl’s quest for big things—freedom, friendship, and family—is truly magical.

Suzanne Slade is the award-winning author of 100 children’s books. Most days you’ll find her researching new book ideas, reading, writing children’s books, or visiting a school near you!

5 reasons to read Lilliput on your vacation