Are you looking to create an engaging, awesome literary study for different ages? Are you looking to build a deep attachment and love of literature for your child/ren? Are you looking to teach your child critical thinking, literary analysis and improve your child’s writing skills by using mentor texts? Are you looking for an adventure?
Great! Welcome to “The Author Study.”
What is an author study and what makes it so awesome?
An author study is a way to learn about and engage with the author of a text. You can compare and contrast books by an author. You can research an author’s life and use it to make connections between the author and the text as well as to other texts and to oneself. To begin, choose an author. Look at the books your child is currently reading or books you’re hoping to read together in the future and choose an author. Now you can decide your goals for the study. Are you interested in comparing features of text or how a story evolves throughout books or are you interested in researching the time period the author grew in and how their personal experiences may have influenced various parts of their writing? You can decide before you begin or after you’ve done some research and have a feel for which might be a better direction.
One of the first studies I did with my children was on Margaret and H.A. Rey, aka the authors of Curious George. It was an easy choice since my kids were 3 and 6 at the time. I found myself up late at night unable to sleep googling the Reys since I was spending so much time reading the series to my son. My daughter had been a fan but by 7 was more interested in The American Girl Historical series so I chose this since I could easily engage both of my children and my son couldn’t get enough of George. Initially, I found a hook and that hook was the author’s biographies. Their story was more than the story of a couple who had a knack for writing highly profitable children’s stories. Their story was one of bravery and perseverance in the face of the worst of human evil and prejudice. The Rey’s were German Jews who had been living in France when the Nazis rode in and occupied Paris in 1940. The only transportation the Rey’s could find was spare parts to make two bicycles that they fixed and rode to the Spanish border and boarded a train. There was a basket on the front of the bike that held the manuscript for Curious George except at that time it was called Cecily G. and the Nine Monkeys along with 4 other manuscripts and a small amount of food. They stayed in Portugal eventually heading to Brazil and then New York publishing Curious George in 1941. The more I read about the author’s lives, the more I began to see connections like in their 1944 book Spotty. This book is the tale of two bunnies and race that is way before it’s time yet makes sense once you know the context of the author’s personal lives. Just so you know, I don’t possess super sleuth skills and you don’t need to either. I just googled their name and read for one minute on the PhD site, Wikipedia and I knew I needed to read more. So then, I googled and read on. Eventually, once I was truly hooked, I bought actual books with real pages made of paper in them and had therefore committed myself heart and mind to the author study. However, you don’t need to purchase anything to be wholeheartedly committed.
An author study can be as fancy as a toddler in a tiara (aka difficult) or as laid back as a beach towel, it’s up to you. Sometimes I’ve kept journals for myself and one for the kids where I’d read a chapter or two to them a day and then they’d journal a response or we would talk about something we had connected with or noticed in the story and then come up with our own questions that we could answer and have each other answer in our journals. I like to get all of the books that I can by a particular author. This can easily be done at the library. I think it’s nice if you have independent readers or even emergent readers to let them read or skim through some of the books or just glance through them. This helps to establish prior knowledge and build a stronger base to learn from just as reading multiple books by the same author. If you really enjoy the style or tone of an author, that can be used as a mentor text to teach writing. For example, when my daughter had first started writing, I used the book, No, David by David Shannon to create her own book titled, No, Catalina. This taught her basic features of a text, had her writing several sight words and reinforced other writing habits and most importantly enabled her to see herself as a writer. I showed her how to write the text and she copied it onto big strips that she then added beneath her drawings and suddenly she had written her first book. She was very proud to be five and calling herself an author. How you see yourself is what you will become so she still loves to write seven years later.
One of the great things about an author study is that you can take it as far as you can imagine. For my son’s third birthday, I booked a room in the town where the Reys had lived and now had a conservation center in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. We drove 6 hours to discover an incredible year round hiking, biking and skiing area that we head to whenever possible. My kids learned to catch a worm and bait a hook, fish there and cook what they caught, swim in a lake, and to ski. They also learned about constellations and developed a love of outer space and geology thanks to the Reys. I can’t wait to read about what you do with your family.