By Monique Harrison

Daily Journal

Six-year-old Elizabeth Durham tugged on her mother’s shirt sleeve, brown eyes widened and neck craned.

“Mom, this is the funny part – the neat part,” the Rankin Elementary first-grader told her mother, Janis. “You aren’t going to believe what this book looked like before it was (published).”

The presentation by children’s author John Gile, author of “The First Forest” and “Oh, How I Wished I Could Read,” first grabbed the youngster’s attention earlier in the week, when he visited her school.

Thursday night, she was excited that her mom and 5-year-old sister could have the same experience.

“I wasn’t sure we were coming, but she cried and said she wanted to come,” Elizabeth’s mother said. “She really wanted to hear some more about what (Gile) had to say about reading.”

The first-grader was one of about 275 students and parents who participated in Parent/Child Night at Church Street Elementary Thursday. The event was designed to give parents an opportunity to see what students have been doing in conjunction with Newspaper and Education Week. The week is designed to encourage students to develop their reading and writing skills, and to improve communication.

“Parents, I wanted you to see what your children have been learning this week,” he said.

During the hour-long presentation, Gile recounted much of what he shared with Tupelo Public Schools students during three days of school visits this week.

He also used the event as an opportunity to encourage parents to read with their children.

“Teachers tell me they can spot the students who are regularly read to at home,” said Gile, who has spoken to about 250,000 children from across the country about his books. “They have a greater attention span, a broader vocabulary, they are more creative and expressive, and they have more confidence. And it’s all because mom and dad took time out of their busy schedules to read to children and communicate with them.”

The Rockford, Ill.-based author also led a teacher workshop during his time in Tupelo, discussing the importance of student journal writing and the general development of writing skills.

His books focus on the importance of values like kindness – a virtue that is emphasized in the book “The First Forest.” The book is a fable about the world’s perfect forest. The forest’s natural serenity and beauty was quickly destroyed, when a group of greedy trees shoved others out of the sunlight, in an attempt to horde all of the sun’s rays and to improve their own strength and beauty at the expense of others.

As retribution, the greedy trees now lose their leaves every winter, while other trees are evergreens.

Gile has also written a book designed for adults. “Keeping First Things First” is designed to teach that people – and not things – are critical to a happy, fulfilling life.

The nationally acclaimed author gave students three tips he said could make them better writers.

First, he said students should look into their heart to examine what interests them.

“Think about the things you like and the people you love,” he said. “When you are excited about your subject, it comes alive.”

Second, he said students should be quick to ask questions – even if they may seem trivial at the time.

He told students to go fishing for ideas, adding that a fish hook is a question mark turned upside down.

“If you want to make a catch, ask questions,” he said.

Finally, he encouraged students to write journals – an activity already emphasized by most Northeast Mississippi teachers, who require students to regularly write down their personal thoughts and ideas.

“Journal writing turns us into critical thinkers,” he said. “It forces us to think and to develop our analytical skills.”

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