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Author Showcase

FALL 2007 FEATURED AUTHOR, ROBYN GIOIA

RT: The story behind your book America's REAL First Thanksgiving; St. Augustine, Florida, September 8, 1565 reminds us that inspiration can knock on your door anytime, anywhere. Can you tell us a little bit about how you came to write the book?

Robyn: When I attended a week long teacher workshop in St. Augustine, Florida, I heard retired professor Dr. Michael Gannon of the University of Florida speak. He said his research revealed that St. Augustine is really the site of the first Thanksgiving ... 56 years before the Pilgrims! Being a teacher, I came home to write a book to tell the kids about this well-kept secret.

This is important stuff. When New England heard Dr. Gannon’s claim, they gave him the nickname the “Grinch who stole Thanksgiving.”

RT: Although America's REAL First Thanksgiving was just published this spring, you have been working on it since 2005. Have you had the opportunity to share the information — and cocido — with any of your fourth graders?

Robyn: Yes, my class and I read the book together; and we also ate cocido. Several kids chose to do the book for a reading project. My room mother made cocido from the book recipe and brought it in for us to eat. The kids loved it. Most asked for seconds! I have moved up to fifth grade this year and my fifth grade class just asked me if I would bring in cocido for them to eat, too. As we speak, I have the garbanzo beans soaking.

RT: Although you have been writing for a long time, America's REAL First Thanksgiving is your first children's picture book. Did you ever envision yourself as an author?

Robyn: As a kid I use to write short stories and try my hand at longer pieces. It wasn’t until I took Children’s Literature in college did I really start to think about it. For a project in that class, I had to write a children’s book and the passion bloomed from there. When we relocated to England for three years, I had the opportunity to join an eclectic group of writer. That is where I really learned the craft of writing and I’ve been penning stories since.

RT: Your book is written for children ages 8 to 12. Do you foresee creating a picture-book story for younger children?

Robyn: I’ve tried my hand at writing for younger kids and keep the thought in the back of my mind. Believe it or not, it is harder for me to do that than write a preteen novel! One of the things I teach is science and there are several science concepts that would make wonderful picture books. I have a friend who teaches Kindergarten. She draws wonderful little characters, and she keeps asking me to write a story so she can illustrate it. Maybe later when I’m not doing the St. Augustine series.

RT: How would you describe your experience in creating, then publishing, and now promoting your book? What has been the most surprising part of the process?

Robyn: The biggest surprise in going through the process is how much time it takes to gather the pictures and promote a book. In this case, it took me three months to write the text for the Thanksgiving book, but nine months to hunt down all the pictures. It was fun, and I enjoyed it, but first it took some time to find the illustrations, and then it took a while to contact illustrators or institutions to get the permission. For instance, one of the historical maps in the book is housed in Israel and I had to converse back and forth with the University of Jerusalem.

I enjoy promoting the book, but it takes away from the time I have to work on the second one. You don’t realize how much time that is until you are actually doing it. I’m preparing to speak at two conferences right now. One of them is the Florida Social Studies Council and I’ve spent a lot of time getting the teacher’s manual ready for the publisher so I can have it for the council. Besides things like vocabulary study, it involved writing a Readers’ Theater of the first Thanksgiving. The drama teacher at my school tried out the play on two classes and gave me feedback before I submitted the final draft.

RT: You mentioned above that Thanksgiving is part of the St. Augustine series. Can you tell us more about the other books? Will the next one be non-fiction, too? or will it be historical fiction?

Robyn: As soon as I finish up some of my current projects, I will begin work on the second book in the Ancient City series. St. Augustine was given the name Ancient City because it is recognized historically as the oldest city in the nation. St. Augustine has a rich history, and it is perfect for kids.

The second book will be on the siege of 1702. The whole city had to hold up inside the Castillo de San Marco for two months because the English were attacking the fort from the sea. The cannon balls either bounced off the fort or embedded themselves inside the wall because the fort is made of coquina, a soft limestone made of tiny shells. The townspeople would sneak out in the middle of the night to get food. The English took so long trying to take the city; it gave the Spanish time to come to the rescue.

The third book in the series will be about a pirate attack. I am looking forward to researching that one.

RT: Rinny and the Trail of Clues is your Award-winning middle-grade novel about a fifth grader who is running for class president. Do you think Rinny will have any more adventures? [Awards: 2004 iParenting Media Award, 2004 Benjamin Franklin Silver Award for Best New Children's Voice, First Place, Florida Writer's Association]

Robyn: Rinny fans ask me that all the time! Yes, I have the second Rinny book almost finished and will finish it as soon as I have a new publisher for it. It is currently out of print and I am searching for a publisher now. It is a very slow process. Rinny is a fun project for me to write. I get to play in the world of fiction by spinning tales and going through adventures. In the second book, Erin (Rinny) and Temple discover a Civil War mystery that needs to be solved. They follow the last steps of a Confederate soldier only to find themselves in danger.

RT: We often hear that reading at home is the one "must do" homework assignment. In the classroom, is it really possible to tell whether or not kids are reading at home? Do you have suggestions for parents on ways they can keep their kids reading … without making it something the kids rebel against?

Robyn: This is something dear to my heart. One of the things I do as a teacher is try to bring reading to life in the classroom. Many times reading is hard for younger kids because they don’t practice enough. Reading is a skill and it has to be practiced to be mastered. Once it is mastered, the benefits are enormous.

For younger readers, choose books that interest them. Find a series that they would like to follow. My daughter and I did the Mr. Men books in first grade and graduated from there. Get to know all the characters, talk about them, make predictions for the next book, and discuss the storyline with them. Show an interest in what they read. Find an author that the child likes, learn about the author, and read all their books.

Encourage a hobby. My daughter loved collecting things. Read books that teach about those things. The DK Eyewitness series is wonderful for that. Go to the library and check out different books on those things and learn as much as you can on the subject. Become an expert. I had one student who loved rainbows. She read everything she could find on rainbows. She drew them on her notebooks and the margins of her papers. And when you asked her about rainbows, she could tell you anything you wanted to know, even the science behind them.

The same advice holds true for older readers, too. As parents, model reading for them. Let them see you reading all the time. Read the paper in front of them, read magazines, and books. Choose a book to read together, let everyone have their own copy, then come together to discuss it. My daughter and I did that with the Harry Potter series and the Elizabeth Peters series.

RT: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Robyn: There is a quote that was written by a third grade student I would like to share:

Books are words
that come from the heart,
Help the imagination,
Make the brain think,
And let you go far beyond places
no one can think of.

Chelsea M., age 9

Website: http://www.robyngioia.com




                 

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