As soon as Barbara O’Connor arrived at Inly, small heads began to peek around the corner to catch a glimpse of the well-known author. Every time I looked up, there was another 10-year-old child looking for an excuse to come into the library and say hello. O’Connor could not have been more welcoming. She was as warm and delightful as her popular novels for middle grade readers. O’Connor’s visit was the culmination of our 4th, 5th and 6th grade summer reading program. The students selected from How to Steal a Dog, The Small Adventures of Popeye and Elvis or The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester – and some kids read all three! O’Connor met with each of the groups, answered lots of questions and talked about her writing process and her new book.
O’Connor’s 10th novel – On the Road to Mr. Mineo’s – will be published next fall. The new book, O’Connor said, has been the most challenging of her career since it includes nine points of view. Her novel, Greetings from Nowhere, was told from four points of view and remains one of her favorites. When I asked her about authors who have inspired her work, she said that Cynthia Rylant’s Newbery-winning novel, Missing May, is one of her favorites and helped her to find her voice. She also admires the work of Kate DiCamillo, Richard Peck, Katherine Paterson and Louis Sachar, among others.
One particularly cool feature of O’Connor’s presentations is that she brings personal items that play a part in her novels. For example, she showed the kids a music box of a little bird sitting on a nest of flowers that is exactly like the one in Moonpie and Ivy. It’s a great way to make the books come alive, and for a few aspiring young writers in our group, I could just imagine them thinking about how to use their own treasures in a story.
“We have enjoyed Barbara’s creative stories, poems, and plays,” Barbara’s teacher wrote on her 6th grade report card. That bit of foreshadowing could not have been more accurate. Today, kids – and their teachers – continue to enjoy Barbara’s magical stories.