Professor creates special program for rural children

When authors talk, children listen

Dr. Cynthia Mowles

The efforts of Dr. Cynthia Mowles brought live authors to distant classrooms.

Education professor Cynthia Mowles noticed at an author series at Portland Public Library how much the school classes attending enjoyed listening to children's book authors read their work and talk about it. It made her think about how schoolchildren in rural Maine needed to hear them as well. She set about making that happen, and, for the second year in a row, it has.

Dr. Mowles and grants coordinator Elizabeth Schran worked together to raise nearly $5,000 to bring authors to schoolchildren in outlying areas, among other programming.

"Bringing in authors makes the writing process come alive," says Mowles. Not only do the authors read from their work, they show children how they have to make revisions and how their drafts get marked up just like the children's drafts. They talk about how they became an author and encourage the kids to keep writing. The children get excited and ask a lot of questions, such as advice on topics to write about. Sometimes, they even ask the author to look at one of their own manuscripts.

"It makes books more important when they hear about what went into them," Mowles says. The Maine authors included Paul Genescoo, Matt Tavares, Anne Sibley O'Brien, Kevin Hawkes and Leah Waite.

For the final live presentation, O'Brien came to Saint Joseph's, and the grant money was used to bus the schoolchildren to campus for the talk and to have lunch with Mowles' elementary education students. (During the course of the semester, her students had attended the live presentations at the rural elementary schools and were assigned to read 100 children's books and interview 10 people about their favorite children's books.)

Mowles says her children's literature students developed a passion for the books, barnstorming through 150 books in some cases. Danielle Johnson '10 says the assignment "brought me back to my childhood and the books I loved."

According to Mowles, her students learned that children's literature is much more than reading aloud to wind down the day. As she points out, "It can teach content and make it more exciting."

Her goal to enliven the curriculum for rural school-children turned out well. And her goal of having her own students take away a love of children's books seems to have worked just as well.

Note: The funds for this project came from a Narragansett One grant for $3,000 to reach 4th and 5th graders in Waterford and Otisfield; $500 from Maine Humanities Council to buy books; $1,000 from the Sweetser Fund for programming in a Saco school; and $400 from the Casco Bay Island Development Association to buy books for four island schools.