A visit from an author can make quite an impression on student readers and writers. Especially when the author happens to bring Mayan myths into our modern world. In the introduction to her novel Storm Runner, Rick Riordan writes, “J. C. Cervantes is about to take you on a trip you will never forget, through the darkest, strangest, and funniest twists and turns of Maya myth. You will meet the scariest gods you can imagine, the creepiest denizens of the underworld, and the most amazing and unlikely heroes, who have to save our world from being ripped apart (12).”
1. A Powerful Learning Opportunity
When students see an author as a real person who has created a world, a story, or a voice, it can benefit student writers. Authors shares insight into their creative process. They often share how an idea evolves through a sometimes messy process, and how from working on many drafts, revisions, and feedback, a character and world emerge.
2. Life Experience Plus Research
Authors and writers are people! Just like us, their experiences show up in their writing. When J.C. Cervantes writes about Zane’s background and life, you know she has that experience of New Mexico landscapes.
“Zane, honey, please. Things will be mejor this time. You’re thirteen now. You need friends. You can’t live out here alone with these…”
“Out here was a narrow, dusty road in the New Mexico desert. Other than my two neighbors, there were tumbleweeds, rattlesnakes, coyotes, roadrunners, a dried-up riverbed, and even a dead volcano. But more on that later. Most people are surprised when they find out New Mexico has so many volcanoes. (Of course, mine was no ordinary act of nature, right, gods?)
“With these what?” I asked, even though I knew what she was thinking: misfits.
So what that Ms. Cab was a little different? And who cared that my other neighbor, Mr. Ortiz, grew weird varieties of chile peppers in his greenhouse? Didn’t mean they were misfits.
“I’m just saying that you need to be with kids your age (20-21).”
And, of course an author shares when they need to conduct additional research, in this case, the stories of the Maya.
“It in no way represents the many Maya mythologies, cultures, languages, pronunciations, and geographies. That would take an entire library. Instead, this offers a snapshot of how I understand the myths and terms, and what I learned during my research for this book. Simply put, myths are stories handed down from one generation to the next. While growing up near the Tijuana border, I was fascinated by the Maya (as well as the Aztec) mythologies, and I was absolutely sure that my ancestors were related to the gods. Each time I’ve visited the Maya pyramids in the Yucatán, I’ve listened for whispers in the breeze (and I just might’ve heard them). My grandmother used to speak of spirits, brujos, gods, and the magic of ancient civilizations, further igniting my curiosity for, and love of, myth and magic (Glossary).”
3. Writers Write; Readers Construct Meaning
An author reinforces the important role students have as readers in constructing meaning of the text. Recalling a past author visit from Kimberly Griffiths Little, after all students had read her novel, The Last Snake Runner, students asked her about what happened to the main characters after the last chapter. She then asked the students what THEY thought happened. There were multiple possibilities, and no one right answer. The students engaged in a lively discussion among themselves and with the author. They supported their theories with evidence from the text, and impressed Ms. Little with their engagement with the text. She then explained that she had written it so that the reader could create meaning, think, discuss, and interact with the story, characters, and context of the book.
4. Authors as Role Models
Books don’t just happen. Writing can be powerful, messy, and hard work. It may even seem daunting for young people to see themselves as authors. But meeting a real person who talks about the creative journey in an honest way, lets students see the possibility for themselves. They are inspired to pursue their goals—whether it be as a writer or something else—as they are exposed to the idea that writing can be a career for someone who puts in the hard work.
Ultimately, students benefit when they can connect with the people behind the books they read.
On Friday, September 27, Bosque’s Middle School students will attend an author presentation by J.C. Cervantes, author of The Storm Runner and the just-released sequel The Fire Keeper. You may pre-order your copies from Bookworks, and they will be delivered here to school in time for the author to sign them.