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Students see the person behind the book

Kids with dreams are often shot down and taught that being creative doesn't lead to a practical career, that wanting to be a writer is like wanting to be an artist — it might work, but it might end with “eating your art.” But groups of selected students interested in the literary field who met with award-winning fiction author Rosanne Parry for workshops this week at Ashland middle and elementary schools heard otherwise.

“I’m a pretty ordinary person,” Parry said. “There isn’t anything especially extraordinary about me and that is the power of it, this is not out of the reach of anybody.”

Parry is the author of four children’s books, one of which, “The Turn of the Tide,” is an Oregon Battle of the Books (OBOB) title. OBOB is a statewide reading and academic competition to encourage reading and celebrate it in grades 3-12, according to Karl Pryor, Ashland middle librarian.

OBOB requires teams of four students to collectively read 16 books on a list specific to their grade levels (3-5, 6-8 and 9-12), then compete against each other at the school, regional and state levels. The competition is similar to a game of Jeopardy. Students answer questions about the books, content and authors to earn points.

The students who attended the author workshop were OBOB participants. Parry visited all three of the Ashland elementary schools and the middle school. The middle school competition began the day after her visit. During the workshop at the middle school, Parry discussed geography, setting and culture, and how these aspects shape stories and characters. She discussed her book “The Turn of the Tide” and answered questions from students.

When a seventh grader asked what advice she could give to an aspiring novelist, Parry replied, “Start writing now, keep writing, and save it. Writing is sort of a muscle you build up.”

Parry admitted that she didn’t like writing when she was younger because she associated it with spelling.

“I felt like I was a terrible writer, I’m a terrible speller, and I’m not quite sure where the comma goes,” Parry said laughing. “But I love to make things up and it wasn’t until much later did I realize that the making things up is actually the really important part.”

Now she encourages people of all ages to write with the workshops and presentations she gives around the state to kids and adults alike.

“Writing clearly and effectively is a power, the same as literacy,” Parry said. “And that is a tool that I want (students) to have.”

Her visits to the Ashland schools were funded by the Ashland Schools Foundation (ASF), according to Pryor. He and Matt Damon, librarian of the elementary schools, applied for the Impact Grant. They sent in applications from all four schools to pool the collective funds for the author visit, said Susan Baker, executive director of ASF. Damon said the PTO at Walker elementary offered additional funds so students there would definitely have an opportunity to participate.

“As a librarian, focused on reading and literacy, I really wanted to bring an author to the district,” Damon said. “An ASF grant, I knew, was probably my best chance at making this happen. Along with the Walker PTO, they really came through.”

ASF is a nonprofit organization that raises funds for enrichment programs at Ashland schools. The majority of the money raised usually goes to hiring extra teachers and specialists, Bacon said. The Impact Grant allows teachers to apply for funds for enrichment programs.

“State and federal government funding isn’t enough to have enrichment programs,” Bacon said. “It’s questionable if it’s even enough to cover the bare bones of what they need in the schools.”

Damon said the Ashland schools have a rich history of author visits, but funds have depleted over the last decade and now they are a rare luxury. Luckily for them, Parry has a background of teaching and enjoys workshopping with young children.

Before she was a writer, Parry was a teacher and said she enjoys teaching through her stories because it is much more effective than a list of facts.

“There’s just something about story that has staying power in the human mind,” Parry said. “I love the power of story.”

To donate to the Ashland Schools Foundation, visit its website at ashlandschoolsfoundation.org.

—Contact Ashland freelance writer Caitlin Fowlkes at Caitlin.fowlkes@gmail.com.