Author teaches kids about drum, nature, writing, never giving up

October 16, 2005|By BONNIE H. BRECHBILL

CHAMBERSBURG, PA. - Stephen R. Swinburne says that every morning when he wakes up in his farmhouse in Vermont, he pinches himself and says, "It's not a dream. You're an author."

"Being an author is the best job in the whole world," Swinburne told a roomful of local children Saturday. He knows that from experience, as he has held many jobs in his life, including newspaper delivery boy, waiter, house painter and naturalist, he said.

An award-winning writer of children's books, Swinburne spoke at the Children's Literature Festival, funded by a grant from the Gilmore Hoerner Foundation and sponsored by the Franklin County Library System and The Capitol Theatre Center.


Swinburne is best known for "Once a Wolf," "Safe, Warm, and Snug" and "Unbeatable Beaks." Many of his books include photographs he has taken and draw on his experience as a U.S. National Park Service ranger. He has written about wolves, bears, coyotes, sea turtles and bobcats.

In a presentation that included photographs of his childhood in England, an African drum made in Vermont and a tape recording of the squeals of a wild black bear club, Swinburne elicited responses from the children, teaching them the difference between fiction and nonfiction.

Concern for the planet is at the root of much of Swinburne's writing. His newest book is about the most endangered marine animal, the Florida manatee.

"There are 3,000 manatees left in Florida," he said. "One thousand people move to Florida every day. A manatee has to come up every three to five minutes to breathe." Boat propellers injure many manatees, he said.

Swinburne quoted Winston Churchill's famous line, "Never give up. Never give up. Never give up," as he talked about his struggle to get published. He endured 5 1/2 years of rejection of his work before a book was accepted, he said.

Swinburne's most famous book, "Once a Wolf," was rejected 37 times before it was published by Houghton Mifflin Publishers in New York City.

Seth Flagle, 10, of Newville, Pa., helped Swinburne perform his "Unbeatable Beaks" song, a rhythmic, rhyming ode to the variety of birds' beaks.

Swinburne sang it to the beat of his "African drum made in Vermont" while Seth wore a bird beak hat and held the words for Swinburne to see.

"I think he's really cool," Seth said after the program. An avid reader, the fifth-grader said he "comes up with ideas. I think I might be a writer when I grow up."

Swinburne said he travels about 100 days a year, making school visits and speaking at teachers' conferences.

Also speaking at the festival was Judith Byron Schachner, a writer and illustrator whose most well-known titles are "Yo, Vikings!," "The Grannyman" and "Skippyjon Jones." She originally is from Massachusetts and now lives in Swarthmore, Pa.

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