MARQUETTE - After months of reading, writing and discussion, thousands of local elementary school students are descending upon the campus of Northern Michigan University this week for the Marquette-Alger Young Authors conference.
The conference, which runs from Monday through Thursday, is bringing together more than 3,000 students from 15 area schools.
"The Marquette-Alger Young Authors conference serves all children grades K through five in Marquette and Alger counties," program Co-Director Amanda Swanson said. "We are a non-profit organization. We are supported by individual patrons and we are supported by community businesses and donors, as well as families and children."
Northern Michigan University President Les Wong listens to young author, 6-year-old Elodie Malherbe of Marquette, read a book that she wrote and illustrated herself to kick off the Marquette-Alger Young Authors Conference at NMU. Her mother, Gala Mahlerbe, also attended the reading. (Journal photo by Danielle Pemble)
Renee Blanck, 7, left, listens to her twin sister Natalie Blanck read her book titled “Make New Friends!” at Northern Michigan University to kick off the Marquette-Alger Young Authors Conference. The girls were accompanied by their parents, Natalie and Kevin Blanck. (Journal photo by Danielle Pemble)
Young author Connor Teeble, 8, of Gwinn, reads his book while his mother, Dorothy Teeble, looks over his shoulder. (Journal photo by Danielle Pemble)
In the months leading up to the four-day conference, students write letters back and forth to similar-aged pen pals in other participating schools. Each student also writes a book of their own.
When the conference finally rolls around, elementary school students from around Marquette and Alger counties come to NMU on one of the four days. After breaking up into groups based on grade level the kids meet their pen pals, share their books in small groups and gain exposure to things in the community. This year, there are musicians, as well as presentations about the Peter White Public Library, the Upper Peninsula Children's Museum, the Marquette Regional History Center and the subject of dog sledding.
In addition to the community exposure, children get the chance to meet and interact with a published children's author.
"I think it kind of brings a humanness to these authors. We read books all the time," said program Co-Director Kathy Zika. Many times, she said, kids love to read, but assume they are unable to write and publish their own books.
This year's guest author, Kelly DiPucchio, has penned more than a dozen children's books, including the recently published "Clink." In the world of writing it is important to be persistent, said DiPucchio, who has written 40 or 50 manuscripts.
"I still get rejected. I still hear those nos to this day, and that's OK. It's all part of the process," DiPucchio told a group of students on Monday afternoon.
DiPucchio, who lives in Lower Michigan, will spend the majority of the four days speaking to an ever-changing sea of young faces. Her presentation is about an hour long and is followed by a brief question-and-answer session. She said she hopes the interaction will inspire kids and motivate them to both read and write.
Though she deals often with issues of children's literacy, DiPucchio said the program on NMU's campus is unique.
"This is quite phenomenal, in terms of different programming going on throughout the day, in the fact that so many districts have been brought together to share in this experience and also in the history of this program," she said. "You don't often see the kind of dedication and committment to children's literacy that you see here today."
Zika, a fourth-grade teacher at Father Marquette, has been teaching for 15 years and has worked in both Alabama and Tennessee. She has been involved with other literacy programs, but said none are as intimate as the Marquette-Alger Young Authors program, which is now in its 36th year.
Swanson, who shares directorship of Young Authors with Zika, was involved in one of those other programs as a child.
"An author came to our elementary school and only one student from every grade got to go interact with the author," she said. "Here, every kid gets to go meet the author and work with the author."
Swanson, a first-grade teacher at Ishpeming's Birchview Elementary, has only been involved in the program for a couple of years. In that time, though, she said many adults have told her how much of an impression the program and conference made on them.
"Everyone seems to remember their experience with Young Authors," Swanson said. "If this is a highlight of someone's education, we're certainly doing something good."
Kyle Whitney can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.