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Smyrna/Clayton Sun-Times
  • 'Red Kayak' author visits with Smyrna Middle School students

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  • When author Priscilla Cummings was young, she loved to write but never thought it would be a career. Now the author of several young adult and picture books, Cummings visited students at Smyrna Middle School Friday to share her story and give them advice on how to be a better a writer.
    Cummings is the author of several popular young adult books, including "Red Kayak."
    Roughly 350 students split up into three sessions were able to listen to Cummings' advice thanks to the school's librarian – Heather Jones – who asked Cummings to come speak to the students. To attend the sessions students had to read one of Cummings' books and take an accelerated reader test.
    Cummings grew up on a dairy farm in western Massachusetts and now lives in Annapolis, Md.
    "First grade is how far back my love of writing goes," she said. "Even though I loved writing, I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life."
    This love of writing continued to college, where she joined the newspaper. Her article on how her high school had changed so much in just a few shorts years lead to a newspaper job. Cummings worked as a reporter for 10 years before quitting to be a stay-at-home mom.
    "Little did I know that what I was learning as a reporter helped me be a better writer," she said.
    In 1986 she published her first picture book, "Chadwick the Crab." Since then she has published 22 books, including 14 picture books.
    At the end of her presentation, Cummings allowed students a chance to ask her questions. Students asked several questions including her favorite book growing up — "Charlotte's Web" — to if she makes a good living as a writer. Cummings said that while some authors do make a decent living off of their published works, it really depends on how many books are sold.
    "A writer has to sell a lot of books to make a lot of money," Cummings said. "I make an OK amount of money. I'm lucky my husband has a good job."
    During the visit, Cummings also gave the students several tips on how to make writing a career. She told students that good writers "show, don't tell" through their writing and encouraged them to start a file when starting a new book; her job as a reporter taught her the importance of thorough research of a topic.
    She also told students to read all the time because good writers are big readers. Cummings said to learn the importance of listening and for students to use all five senses to understand what's going on around them. Her next tip was for students to pay attention to life because anything could spark a story idea. Finally, she told students there are supposed to be mistakes in the first draft of a story and that it's their second, third, fourth and fifth drafts that really make a story shine.
    Page 2 of 2 - Assistant Librarian Susan Hufschmidt said having Cummings speak to the students is important because she encourages students to read.
    "Reading is such an important part of comprehension of social studies, science and English," Hufschmidt said.
    Email Jennifer Dailey at jennifer.dailey@doverpost.com.

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