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© illustration by Kevin Palivec, used with permission

Author Study

© illustration by Kevin Palivec, used with permission

An author study involves making a reading and writing connection between a selection of books a student reads by a particular author and the writer's life. The goal is for the student to improve his or her writing skills by studying the author's writing style and techniques. The author actually becomes a writing mentor for the reader.

My students especially enjoy reading popular stories by Louis Sachar such as Wayside School. This humorous story is filled with wacky characters behaving oddly in a very strange setting. They consider Sachar's vivid imagination amusing and highly entertaining. Besides, his books are easy to read. (The Lexile scores range from 290 to 570.)

The kids wanted to read more stories by this author, but I wasn't able to meet the demand due to a limited quantity of available titles. To satisfy their interest and take advantage of this teachable moment, I initiated an author study by reading the book Holes as a class read-aloud. Although the book has a Lexile score of 660, this high-interest story captured their attention and motivated their sustained interest in Sachar's writing style.

Whether you conduct an in-depth author study as a group project as I did, or have your students do an independent research study, reading books by the same author is a valuable teaching tool. Below are some elements we incorporate in our author studies:

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Note: Click the below images to view them full size.
Pat Cummings author assembly © illustration by kevin palivec, used with permission Pat Cummings author book signing
Author and illustrator, Pat Cummings, demonstrated her drawing techniques during a school assembly. After the assembly, Pat autographed copies of her books in the Information Center for students and staff.

When planning your author study, explore these information-packed sites with links to web pages of and about favorite authors.

  1. http://doe.sd.gov/octa/ddn4learning/themeunits/author/plans.htm
    This page contains links for lesson plans, projects, web quests, and links to authors' home pages and other sites developed about them.

  2. http://fcweb.bloomington.k12.mn.us/~rbarlow/
    008FE2A2-011EDE4D.0/Author%20Study%20Project.pdf

    Directions in PDF format for conducting an author study. A class presentation is the culminating activity.
  3. http://projects.edtech.sandi.net/king/authorexpert/
    This site is an excellent Webquest resource for generating author studies. It contains step-by-step directions, graphic organizers, resource links and an evaluation rubric for six authors. The format can be easily adapted for classroom use with other authors.
  4. http://sps.k12.mo.us/wilsonscreek/mdoennig/Author%20Study.pdf
    This pdf file has directions and graphic organizers to assist students in completing an author study project.
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Official Author Websites

The Internet is a great source of information about children's writers and illustrators. There are many fine children's authors, too many to list here, so I had to be selective. Read about our favorite authors and illustrators. Find out where they come from, where they get their ideas, and lots more. These sites are the authors' official or personal websites. Search the Internet for other fine websites maintained by fans, scholars, and readers.
  1. http://www.avi-writer.com/
    Avi, the author of Crispin a Newbery Award winner, is a prolific author. He writes in a variety of genres from historical fiction to picture books. This website includes biography, complete book listing and more.
  2. http://www.judyblume.com/index.html
    Judy Blume, the author of Freckle Juice and Fudge series talks about censorship, gives tips on writing and includes photos with her biography,
  3. http://www.betsybyars.com/
    Betsy Byars has won the Newbery Medal in 1971 for her novel The Summer of the Swans. This site contains an autobiography, complete list of books, photos, writing tips and more.
  4. http://www.sharoncreech.com/index.html
    Sharon Creech is the author of Ruby Holler, Chasing Redbird, Granny Torelli Makes Soup and many other novels. She received the Newbery Award Medal for Walks Two Moons. This site has an extensive downloadable teacher's guide for her books.
  5. http://www.roalddahl.com/
    This marvelous site is chock full of fun things to do as well as information about Roald Dahl, the author of The Witches, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The BFG, and so many more works. This site has great tips for teachers, games, funny quotes, quizzes, a monthly poll and film news.
  6. http://www.neilgaiman.com/index.asp
    Neil Gaiman, author of spooky stories, wrote Coraline and Wolves in the Walls. This web site includes his journal, essays on his comics and films, photo gallery, and more.
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  7. http://www.jackgantos.com/
    Jack Gantos is the author of the Joey Pigza, Rotten Ralph, and the Jack Henry series of books. This site contains teacher guides, book information, biography and photos, and press release information about Jack Gantos and his work.
  8. http://www.redwall.org/dave/news.php
    This is the official web site of the author Brian Jacques. The stories take place in a medieval setting centered around Redwall Abbey. The heroes of the Redwall series are peace-loving mice who face the struggle of good versus evil and life versus death.
  9. http://www.madeleinelengle.com/
    Madeleine L' Engle won the Newbery Award for A Wrinkle in Time and other science fiction books. This website has movie related media and other multi-media activities, reference materials, photos and reflections on writing.
  10. http://www.tamora-pierce.com/index.html
    Tamora Pierce writes fantasy stories for young adults. This site includes a biography, list of published works, Frequently asked questions, and recommended book lists for fantasy and science fiction lovers.
  11. http://www.pilkey.com/index.php
    Dav Pilkey is the author & illustrator of the Captain Underpants series. His site contains an in-depth look at some of Dav's books, jokes & riddles, FAQ, biography in several versions, color pages, comics and free music.
  12. http://www.patriciapolacco.com/
    Patricia Pollacco is a prolific author of picture books. This site includes a detailed biography and a listing of her favorite stories that inspired her to become a writer and illustrator of children's books. This site includes fun activities for children such as: coloring pages, postcards, quizzes, puzzles and much more.
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  13. http://www.jkrowling.com/
    The official J. K. Rowling website is as magical as the Harry Potter books she writes. The site includes J. K. Rowling's extensive biography, links to fan sites, film & book information, and FAQ. Navigating through the pop-ups on this visually pleasing site is loads of fun.
  14. http://www.louissachar.com/
    Everything you wanted to know about Louis Sachar, the author of Wayside School and Marvin Redpost series can be found on this site. His recent book, Holes, won the prestigious National Book Award and the Newbery Medal.
  15. http://www.lemonysnicket.com/index.cfm
    The site promotes The Series Of Unfortunate Events, a collection of books concerning the terrible lives of the three Baudelaire children. Biographical information, about the elusive author Lemony Snicket, is as mysterious as his books. There is also information about the illustrator, the film, games, a screensaver and more.
  16. http://www.jerryspinelli.com/newbery_001.htm
    Jerry Spinelli, author of Maniac Magee and Loser, has many fun activities for children in addition to FAQ and book information on his web site. Click on Fun Stuff to solve a secret code, take a quiz, solve a puzzle, & cook up some delicious recipes.
  17. http://www.chrisvanallsburg.com/flash.html
    Chris Van Allsburg is the author and illustrator of Caldecott Award-winning Jumanji and The Polar Express. This site includes a biography, FAQ, video interview, video clips of some of his books, teachers' resources, and a Kids Corner. The fun activities for kids include a scavenger hunt, games, bookmarks, and Jumanji screen saver.
  18. http://www.harpercollins.co.uk/microsites/dianawynnejones/homepage.aspx
    Diana Wynne Jones is a prolific author of fantasy books for young adults. This site contains information about the author, her books, and links to fan sites.
  19. http://www.janeyolen.com/
    Jane Yolen has won the Caldecott Medal, two Nebula Awards, two Christopher Medals, the World Fantasy Award, three Mythopoeic Fantasy Awards, the Golden Kite Award, the Jewish Book Award, and the Association of Jewish Libraries Award. She is renowned for her fantasy, and science fiction works, including Owl Moon, Devil's Arithmetic, and How do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? This site contains essays, poems, answers to frequently asked questions, a brief biography, and links to resources for teachers and writers.
  20. http://patcummings.com/menu.html
    Pat has a special place in this line up of authors for she is a military brat and first attended school at Vogelweh Elementary. Pat gives good advice for budding students writers, “If you want to tell stories, take notes. Keep a journal. I wish I had. The brother who drives you crazy, the sister who gets in your stuff, the teacher who scares you silly might all make for a good tale. Making books lets you mold a reality right out of your imagination. It's powerful stuff.”

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