By Monique Harrison

Daily Journal

Children’s book author John Gile used repetition in hopes of getting his point across to Milam Intermediate students Tuesday afternoon.

“Read, read, read,” the best-selling author of “The First Forest,” “Keeping First Things First” and “Oh, How I Wished I Could Read” told the school’s fifth and sixth-graders. “You develop your writing power best by reading a great deal. It is the key to writing and … to life.”

The Rockford, Ill.-based author is in Tupelo this week as part of the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal’s Newspaper and Education Week, which is designed to foster student interest in reading and writing.

He will visit every Tupelo school, with the exception of Tupelo High School, before Thursday. He will also be speaking at an hour-long teacher workshop today, discussing the importance of student journal writing and the general development of writing skills.

Gile’s books are designed to both entertain and teach.

“The First Forest,” for example, is a children’s fable that discusses the birth of the world’s first perfect forest. The forest was tranquil and serene – until some of the trees became greedy and pushed other trees out of the way in an effort to receive more sunlight.

Then, “the peace of the forest was ended that day.” As retribution for their greed, the fabled greedy trees now lose their leaves every winter, while other trees are evergreens.

“Keeping First Things First,” is designed to teach children that people – and not things – are important in life.

Gile told Milam students the best authors are the ones who understand the joy that can come with putting pen to paper.

“An author is a person who gets up in the morning and who gets to investigate, think about and write about the things that interest them,” he said. “Writing is fun. That’s the easiest way to explain it.”

But the 51-year-old Cuba City, Wisconsin, native hasn’t always been so passionate about his favorite pastime.

“I’m embarrassed about it, but when I was sitting where you are sitting, I had no interest in writing,” said Gile, who did not become interested in writing until he was 20. “I loved football, basketball and baseball. I wanted to play second base for the Chicago Cubs. All those years, I didn’t care that my teachers were pushing me to be a better writer and reader. I didn’t see that they were giving me the tools I would need later to do what I wanted to do.”

He said if students didn’t gain joy simply from writing, there were other more tangible sources of motivation for writers.

“There’s a market for young writers,” he said, before telling students about a series of reference books that lists companies most likely to publish children’s works. The books tell young writers what to send to potential publishers.

And there’s another detail that grabbed the attention of the young writers.

“A lot of students ask, ‘What do I get if I write?” Gile said. “That’s what this (reference) book is for. One day, I was talking to a group of students and decided to show them. I happened to open the book to a page that listed children’s writing contests. The first-place winner received $3,000. There were other contests where the first prize was $5,000 or more.”

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