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"I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book." More


Author Showcase

FALL 2007 FEATURED AUTHOR, SHERRI CHESSEN

RT: Your first book The Gorp's Gift is a picture book that gives parents and teachers a way of talking about gun violence and offers options for solving problems without guns. Did you find it difficult to put together a story that could connect with kids in the same way the day-to-day media glorifies violence?

Sherri: Not difficult at all, as Gorp is always child-friendly, kind and compassionate. Our books take the high road as we tell any tale from the ‘goodness’ point of view. Kids, I believe, especially the littlest ones, are often terrified of what they see in the media. I think they would much rather learn a lesson while laughing than being scared into it. I know it sounds creepy, but this book just seemed to "channel" through me as my interest in helping to lessen gun violence came after, rather than before the books inception.

RT: Has there been a point in the 10 years you've been an advocate against gun violence (and spokesperson for Gorp) where you felt like you could say "we did it"?

Sherri: Yes! Yes! Yes! When more than three million kids signed the Student Pledge (along with Gorp’s Pledge) stating they wouldn’t bring a gun to school, nor solve a problem with one. The Student Pledge is held every October and was sanctioned by the US Senate. Unanimously. Imagine! It is the brainchild of Mary Lewis Grow of Minnesota and Gorp is pleased to have been at her side helping since its inception. Among many other honors, the Tariq Khamisa Foundation, an anti-violence organization in California, made an instructional film for students and it features GORP. Don’t worry, he hasn’t gone “Hollywood.”

RT: You mentioned the pledge above. This is a feature in each of your books: a statement that children can recite and sign. Have you ever gotten any feedback on why the pledge is an important part of the message?

Sherri: In the first book, we asked for pledges to be sent to us so we could take them to the White House. We have received thousands of them, along with the most incredible letters. They are the most poignant pleas for making America safer that I have ever seen. Unfortunately, we’ve yet to figure out how to get them into public view, much less the White House! The pledges sum up the books messages. Whenever we read at schools, the kids love to stand and repeat the pledge. I think I’ll start asking for teacher feedback on that issue, though. Thanks for the idea.

RT: Are there any plans to let Gorp to travel the world and become an internationally-recognized figure?

Sherri: Hey, he’s free to go anytime he wants. Gorp recently received a love letter from Northern Ireland describing how pleased they are with Gorp’s Dream as “it deals with issues of difference and diversity within a community in a fantastically child friendly way.” With all the different religions they deal with there, she said it is exactly what they’re after! We’ve also had orders from New Zealand. Hurray for the Web. (I don’t want Gorp to see all these accolades, as he does tend to get a big head...men!)

RT: In 2003, you followed The Gorp's Gift with The Gorp's Dream: a Tale of Diversity, Tolerance, and Love in Pumpernickel Park. The story covers lots of topics, and you can to talk about subjects as "simple" as friendship and change, or as sophisticated as acceptance and bullying. If you had to pick one theme/message for the book, what would it be?

Sherri: "To not judge others from the outside in, but the inside out!”

RT: On a personal note, I love the allegory and rhyming scheme in The Gorp's Dream. Do you find it difficult to get all of the pieces to work: creating the characters and maintaining the "baked goods" theme; getting it all to rhyme with a consistent cadence, and conveying the messages without making it TOO sweet?

Sherri: I guess I have a child-like mind after working with kids all my life, to say nothing of being a mom of six and Grandmom of eight (so far)! Children love rhyme and it’s easy and fun! As Romper Room used to say: Education should be FUN ... as should life in general. Speaking of allegory, your Reading Tub theme, Terry, does the same thing. That is probably why I was attracted to it. (And thank you for the compliment…you’re a Honey Bun.)

RT: Gorp is helping children with some of the toughest challenges they face growing up: bullying, guns, and violence, in general, to name a few. Are there other areas where you believe Gorp has something to offer kids?

Sherri: Unfortunately, there is a BIG one and that’s the proliferation of sexual violence against children. We just went kicking and screaming into a new book about empowering our kids to become less ‘obedient’ when faced with sexual predators. You hear so much about the egregious perpetrators, re-hab, etc., etc., but not much about strengthening the children. The new book, Gorp’s Secret will be out in February 2008. Based on feedback from our focus groups, I feel that Gorp will make his strongest contribution yet. (sigh)

RT: What do you suggest as the best ways for parents to help promote safety for kids at school? If someone wanted to introduce Gorp to their school, how would you recommend that they do that?

Sherri: The best way is for a teacher, counselor, or parent to read the book, do the pledge with the kids, and then have them do some of the activities put forth in the fabulous Teacher’s Guides. )I can heap the praise as I didn’t write them. They are chock full of questions, games, and activities that reinforce Gorp’s principles. It is also fun; there is even Gorp Bingo! As an aside, Tracy Atwell, the Teacher's Guides author is a third grade teacher at Hemingway Elementary in Ketchum, Idaho. She just happens to be my #4 child.

RT: Both of your books come with extensive Teacher's Guides. As you mentioned, they are filled with activities and ideas that can really bring the message to life for kids They are perfect for Guided Reading. Can parents purchase these guides, too?

Sherri: Absolutley! Children have to be taught "in a circle," which means you teach a premise, then you reinforce it by teaching it again and again through different channels, cutting the same message paths. In Education parlance, the Guides are based on Bloom’s Taxonomy.

RT: In addition to being a children's author, you have hosted children's television shows, served as a camp counselor, directed children's theater, are Mom to six children, and grandmother to eight. Over the course of your career, what has changed most for parents and teachers in working with and teaching children?

Sherri: For me, it would be the sophistication level. Kids know so much more now than they used to. Want your computer fixed? Ask a 10 year old. By the time they enroll in Kindergarten, I think kids know more than we knew at 15. Not all of it is healthy, by any means, so there’s some "unteaching" to do, too. WE need to replace media-borne hype with basic, loving values.
Reading Tub: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Sherri: You are a good interviewer, Terry. I am going to be thinking about a lot of these avenues you’ve sent me down. I wish we could write simple little stories about the lint under the bed turning into a fluffy bunny rabbit (well, maybe some can) but in a world gone "hard," I know that peace lies in creating a new generation of Peacemakers, one child at a time, if necessary. Thank you, Terry!

Website: http://www.thegorp.com




                 

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