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Youth-oriented author Gordon Korman scores with Elmbrook students

Author Gordon Korman moderated a "Battle of the Books" between Pilgrim Park and Wisconsin Hills Middle Schools at the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center on Nov. 19, 2012. Questions were posed based on his books that the students read and were quizzed on before being selected for the event. Wisconsin Hills students Katherine Liu, Eric Brown, Gabriel Eagon and Justin Soell watch Pilgrim Park answer a question. Not pictured from the Wisconsin Hills team are Katie McCoy and Courtney Colas.

Author Gordon Korman moderated a "Battle of the Books" between Pilgrim Park and Wisconsin Hills Middle Schools at the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center on Nov. 19, 2012. Questions were posed based on his books that the students read and were quizzed on before being selected for the event. Wisconsin Hills students Katherine Liu, Eric Brown, Gabriel Eagon and Justin Soell watch Pilgrim Park answer a question. Not pictured from the Wisconsin Hills team are Katie McCoy and Courtney Colas. Photo By Mary Catanese

Nov. 20, 2012

The final score in Elmbrook's Annual Battle of the Books was Pilgrim Park 18, Wisconsin Hills 10, but that's not what mattered. An author's words did.

Everyone who competed in and attended the contest held Monday at the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for the Arts had the opportunity to see, hear and meet Gordon Korman, the bestselling author of youth and teen books, who spent two days in the district.

"It was fun," said Kay Benning, the librarian for both middle schools who arranged Korman's visit. "I think all those who had a chance to be there and to meet him over his visit were impressed. I wanted to bring him to the district because he not only is a good writer and he tells a good story, he also is a good speaker."

Getting the author

Benning had seen Korman speak at a literary conference last January in Chicago. She finalized arrangements in March.

"His message is very important because he tells his audience that research is vital in the writing process," Benning said. "He may draw from his own experiences, but he also emphasizes that he wants to know more about what is going on around him.

"Now, we, as educators, can preach about the importance of research," she said. "When it comes from a New York Times bestselling author, that lends credibility to the message."

Korman, originally from Canada and now a resident of Long Island, N.Y., has written about 80 middle-grade and teen novels packaged as individual books and series. Some of his best known works include New York Times No. 1 bestseller "The 39 Clues: One False Note," "The Juvie Three," "Son of the Mob," "Born to Rock," "Swindle" and "Schooled."

Easy style

His self-deprecating humor went a long way Tuesday.

Moderating "Battle of the Books," in which the teams competed in identifying Jeopardy-style trivia in several of his works, Korman said he was "amazed that they know facts that I have forgotten."

He added: "Actually, Alex Trebek and I are both from Canada, so I think theirs is some genetic link that helps in hosting a trivia contest."

Afterward, in an informal talk to the more than 180 audience members, Korman said that "having people remember minute details of your books is a humbling experience."

Different gifts

In a pre-visit interview, Korman said it is difficult to select any one or two books as his favorites.

"I like them all the same, "he said, "though I guess I tend to get more excited about the ones that are most recent."

His most recent was "Ungifted," a story about an average student who gets put into a gifted program by mistake.

"It explores the notion of kids being gifted in different ways," Korman said. "A kid in this case is able to help the academically gifted to work a joystick on a computer. I think it's interesting to consider what gifted means. You look at kids in more remedial programs and they have strengths that sometimes go unrecognized. I think that whole notion is fascinating."

Interacting with youths

What he also finds fascinating is interacting with students, whether it is in a classroom or standing in front of a young audience. He said the interaction actually helps fuel ideas for his stories.

"You get in front of a group of kids and you can just see the new ideas that fuel questions," he said. "You get a sense of what they are thinking and what they are interested in. It puts the wind in your sails and sharpens your rudder for what's to come."

While the typical youngster's imagination has not changed over the past several decades, Korman said he senses their world has changed them.

"These kids know so much more and have so much more access to information," he said. "But they have less real-world experience. When I was growing up, I could take the bus to a subway and go into Toronto. I don't believe it's something that many would do today, but they have so much more virtual information and in some ways they are more experienced.

"I obsess about those types of things," he said. "About the future, what kind of adults will kids be because of that?"

Appreciative audience

Based on his Tuesday audience, Korman's loyal followers will continue to be eager readers.

Kathryn Lazar, a Wisconsin Hills seventh-grader, arrived with her mother, Maria. So did Pilgrim Park sixth-grader Amber Rothe and her mother, Kristin. Both students were trivia contest alternates for their respective teams, but they said they really came to see the author they have been reading for some time.

"I think the books are popular because they portray real people in situations that can be real," said Maria Lazar. "I'm glad she is interested in them. All my kids are avid readers."

Korman's influences

Katie Hughes, a seventh- and eighth-grade reading teacher at Pilgrim Park, uses Korman's works in her classes and practices what she preaches.

"I grew up with his books," Hughes said. "I really enjoyed them. I think it's important for the kids to see and hear the author that they have been reading. It's a great experience."

Korman's influence also reached local public libraries such as those in Brookfield and Elm Grove, whose friends groups helped sponsor the visit. Vicki Brostrom, who heads children's services at the Brookfield Public Library, said Korman's popularity is built on easy-to-digest plots.

"His stories are quite exciting and fast-paced," she said. "It's easy to see the appeal."

CHECK IT OUT

WHAT: Display of featured Gordon Korman books

WHERE: Brookfield Public Library, 1900 N. Calhoun Road

INFORMATION: (262) 782-4140

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