Children's author overcomes early reading obstacles
Being a popular author is not as easy as it seems, especially when reading a book as a youngster was difficult.
Lauren Tarshis, who has written more than a dozen children's books, including the popular "I Survived" series, shared her experiences and humor with students at Royle Elementary School in Darien Nov. 6.
"It still is a shock to me that I am an author," said Tarshis, who grew up and lives in Westport. "I still think of myself in pigtails in fifth grade as the kid who couldn't read a book."
Tarshis kept her reading difficulties a secret through school, never completing a single book until 10th grade, when she forced herself to get through "A Tale of Two Cities" by reading pages over and over again.
"For many years, I had to read every page of every book three or four times," she said.
But after college, she went to work at Scholastic Inc., where she ended up in a position that required knowledge of children's books.
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"Until I was 30 years old, I had never read a book for kids," she said. "I basically had to become an expert on children's books."
Tarshis, who held a group of 60 fifth-graders virtually spellbound for the bulk of her presentation, shared some pivotal advice she obtained from author J.K. Rowling, who was then unknown to American audiences and was visiting Scholastic's New York office before the release of "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone."
Thoroughly despondent over what she felt was a terrible first attempt at writing, Tarshis was told by Rowling that early failures were part of the process.
Tarshis recalled her saying, "`I've written two other books, but nobody will ever read them. Lauren, don't you know that in order to write one good book, a person has to write two terrible books first?'"
To illustrate the significance of the moment, Tarshis invited a student up before the group to act out the moment that gave her the encouragement to make two more attempts, the second of which, "Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree," became her first published book.
"I've read like a couple of her books and she has really good books," said Anna Clements, 10, who called Tarshis' talk "cool."
Tarshis also gave a sneak preview of her latest book, "I Survived the Nazi Invasion of 1944," which will be the 10th in the "I Survived" series when it is released in February.
"What's great about this series is I learn so much," she said, detailing the extensive research she puts into topics, such as the Battle of Gettysburg.
"I read 31 books. I went to Gettysburg twice. I watched videos. I studied maps. ... I studied for a week just learning about a cannon."
She said it takes her even more time to think of her characters, to whom she becomes very attached.
"She was very good at detailing her books and stuff," said Matthew Cavoli, 11, who has read several. "She was very interesting."
Jarret Liotta is a freelance writer.