FAIRFIELD, NJ — In recognition of Read Across America Day, award-winning children's author and illustrator Daniel Kirk, who is best known for his best-selling "Library Mouse" series, recently visited both Adlai E. Stevenson (K-3) and Winston Churchill school (4-6) in Fairfield to speak with students about his experience writing and illustrating more than 40 books over the course of his career.
Kirk, who visits about 12-to-15 schools each year, said he enjoys explaining to kids in a fun and creative way what it is like to create a book that they look at every day in school.
While visiting Churchill, Kirk shared stories about his two-week visit to a Rhinoceros sanctuary in Kenya, Africa, where he researched Anna Merz and the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy for his book "Rhino in the House: The Story of Saving Samia." For the younger students at Stevenson, Kirk described his inspiration for the "Library Mouse" series and utilized songs and illustrations to demonstrate the steps of writing each book.
"My editor wanted a story with a library as its setting," said Kirk, who was visiting a school library in Basking Ridge when inspiration struck. "Have you ever heard a librarian scream? Well, this librarian jumped out of her seat and screamed and pointed to a little mouse on the shelf, and that is how the idea of 'Library Mouse' started."
Fairfield school librarian Lauren Fitzpatrick explained that she received a post card from Kirk during last year's Author Day that "gave a brief snapshot of his presentations," and said she immediately recognized his name due to the popularity of the "Library Mouse" series at Stevenson and because she has read some of his other works myself.
"So I reached out to him, and was very excited that he was available to come on Read Across America Day," said Fitzpatrick, who noted the importance of hosting such events so that students can learn about the writing process and understand that authors are people just like them. "They also get to see that writing and/or illustrating is a lot of hard work and research."
Fitzpatrick spoke about some fun facts students learned during the event, such as how frequently a story ends up differently that the author initially intended.
"Just because you’re starting with a topic/premise doesn’t mean you’ll end up the same way, much like Kirk’s 'Library Mouse' evolving from a library ABC book," she said.
She also addressed some lessons that students learned, such as being able to identify how the things they learn in school translate to real life.
"After the visit, students have some more self-motivation where they want to read great books and write more effectively to communicate with their audience," said Fitzpatrick, adding that Kirk's visit was an exciting break from the regular routine for both students and teachers, who were eager to ask questions and left feeling inspired to be more creative in their own lives.
In addition to Kirk's visit, Fairfield Public Schools also hosted other events in conjunction with Read Across America, including a book fair at both schools; Dr. Seuss-inspired crafts and activities for Pre-K and Kindergarten classes; reading partnerships between students in third grade and kindergarten; and more. According to Fitzpatrick, all teachers made a conscious effort to infuse their lessons with reading appreciation throughout the work.
Among the highlights was a "One Book, One District" game show focusing on this year’s book, "Almost Super," with Fairfield Public Schools reading specialist Katie Prall, who broke students up into teams to answer trivia questions about the book.
Regarding Kirk's visit, Fitzpatrick said she has received a plethora of positive feedback from both students and staff who she said felt he was "very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about his craft and researching topics for his books, which provides students with those real-life connections."
One Churchill student, for instance, turned to his teach in disbelief after hearing about Kirk's research in Kenya and asked, "He did all of that for one book?"
Fitzpatrick expressed gratitude to the Fairfield Home and School Association (HSA) for sponsoring the event every year, stating that the event could not happen without the parents and staff involved.
She also recognized district administrators, specifically acknowledging Superintendent Susan Ciccotelli, Director of Curriculum and Instruction Dr. Michael Trabucco and Churchill Principal Santana for their support.
"The support from the administration here at Fairfield Public Schools also shows the investment the district has in the children's educational and overall school experience," said Fitzpatrick. "It was made clear when I was hired that they wanted Author Day to continue, and I am very glad to be able to be involved.