Award-winning author speaks to AES students

Posted 11/25/16

Susan Stevens Crummel got to share her passion for writing with a group of Bartow County students who will be reading her books during this school year.

The Fort Worth, Texas, children’s author visited Adairsville Elementary School last week to …

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Award-winning author speaks to AES students


Susan Stevens Crummel got to share her passion for writing with a group of Bartow County students who will be reading her books during this school year.

The Fort Worth, Texas, children’s author visited Adairsville Elementary School last week to talk to students and parents about the importance of reading and writing.

“I love to talk to kids and adults about reading and writing,” Crummel said. “[AES Principal] Melissa Zarefoss is an outstanding principal who is committed to helping her students succeed. When she chose 10 of my books for her Principal's Book of the Month, then I was destined to come to Adairsville to help make these books come alive.”

Zarefoss first discovered Crummel’s collection of books while attending a Striving Readers Conference, according to Assistant Principal Kristy Laney.

“Ms. Crummel’s books were on display as examples of texts that could be used to teach the strategies highlighted at the Striving Readers Conference,” she said. “After a closer look, Ms. Zarefoss and I realized the books could be featured as our Principal’s Book of the Month, which aligns with the character education word of the month.”

Crummel, a former high school math teacher, said reading “is crucial” for elementary school students.

“It is the building block for all subjects,” she said.

Crummel shared a quote from award-winning author Neil Gaiman about officials from the prison industry being able to predict how many prisoners there would be in the future.

“And they found they could predict it very easily, using a pretty simple algorithm, based on asking what percentage of 10- and 11-year-olds couldn't read,” she quoted Gaiman as saying. “And certainly couldn't read for pleasure.”

“It's not one-to-one; you can't say that a literate society has no criminality,” she said. “But there are very real correlations.”

On Nov. 17, Crummel spoke to the entire student body in three assemblies — one for kindergartners and first-graders, one for second- and third-graders and one for fourth- and fifth-graders — and shared the writing and illustrating process she and her sister, illustrator Janet Stevens, use to create their award-winning books.

“During the school visit, I spoke about many things — where ideas come from, the development of a story, character traits, the importance of writing down their ideas and keeping a journal, the dream of being an author can be a reality and, most importantly, if you work at something every day, you will get better,” she said.

The faculty and students thought Crummel did an amazing job at the assemblies, according to Laney.

“The students were very involved in the presentation because she used volunteers from the audience to perform the stories in her books,” she said.

“It was a very engaging assembly, especially since it can be challenging to keep large groups of children focused on a speaker. She was phenomenal. It was very obvious that she is a former teacher, and she knows how to engage a crowd. We thoroughly enjoyed it.”

The presentations helped illustrate an important aspect of successful instruction: making real-world connections for the students, Laney said.

“We felt it was helpful to show our students the power of reading and writing and a possible avenue they could pursue later in life,” she said. “They had the opportunity to see that people can have a successful career using writing and art skills.”

Crummel also spoke to the community at AES Parent Night Nov. 16, where she said she “shared how they can be a family of good readers.”

“Good readers start out ahead — at home,” she said, suggesting things to do with babies, toddlers, preschoolers and older kids like making them comfortable, providing fun reading spaces, eating together and engaging in conversation and urging them to read to everyone, including pets and relatives. “Good readers have a strong vocabulary.“

Using examples from her books, Crummel also told parents that good readers “look for detail,” “summarize and predict” and “make connections.”

She also was impressed by the number of parents who attended the event.

“The turnout exceeded my expectations, indicating that the parents in Adairsville are supportive of their children and their education,” she said.

Crummel, who holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Texas Christian University, said she had been a math teacher for 31 years — although she’d been writing skits, poems, songs and stories since second grade and had her first poem published in eighth grade — when her sister “roped me into this.”

“I loved teaching math, but I knew something was missing in my life,” she said. “I found that missing part when I started writing and presenting to kids. I get to be creative as a writer and as a speaker who inspires the next generation of writers. It's the dream job for me.”

Her first book, “Shoe Town,” was written in 1997 as a first-grade basal reader, but it became a trade book two years later, Crummel said.

“My sister had signed a contract to write and illustrate the story, and she got stuck,” she said. “There were all these rules to write for a textbook, and Janet hates rules — she's an artist. I love rules — I was a teacher — so I wrote it. It's the perfect collaboration. My sister is all over the map, and I rein her in, add structure — and my own creativity and humor — and voila.”

The artistic duo has collaborated on 17 children’s books, including New York Times best-sellers “Help Me, Mr. Mutt!” (winner of the Texas Bluebonnet Award and one of Time magazine’s Best Children’s Books) and “The Great Fuzz Frenzy (NCTE Notable Book and winner of 10 state book awards), “The Little Red Pen” (Arkansas Diamond Honor Award), “Cook-a-Doodle-Doo!” (Texas Bluebonnet Award), “And the Dish Ran Away with the Spoon (ALA Notable Book, Colorado Book Award and California Young Reader Medal) and “Jackalope” (Storytelling World Award and IRA Children’s Choice Award).