“I want to write about someone living out in the country, far, far away, and a visitor, a good visitor, comes during the night. That’s my idea,” said Holland. “The very best thing was to see my first author and hear some of his stories.”
Holland, a fourth-grader at Waterford Elementary School, said she was inspired by West Virginia author Marc Harshman, a special guest at her school Monday.
Harshman, a poet and storyteller from Wheeling, has written 11 children’s picture books. One of his stories appears in a fourth-grade reading book used at Waterford. On Monday, he read from several of his books, offered writing tips, answered questions and signed autographs.
“It was great,” said Alex Branham, 10, also a fourth-grader at Waterford. “I liked it how he told us to tell our mom and dad to read to us, take us to the library and tell us stories. I never saw a real author in my life.”
JoAnn Welch, special education teacher, coordinated the school visit. It was open to all grades.
“Students wrote him letters, and he responded saying he would love to come to Waterford,” Welch said. “Our PTO said they would fund our adventure.”
“(The students) are very excited,” Welch said. “To them, he is like a movie star.”
Harshman, a former elementary school teacher, delighted students with readings from several of his books and with stories about his childhood, growing up on a small farm.
“It all started when I was a little kid and heard my daddy read the poem, ‘Little Orphan Annie’ just like my granddad read it to him,” Harshman said. “I grew up way out in the country and we only got to town once a week, but we always visited the library.”
He told of special family hours around the dining room table at his grandmother’s house with stories, tales, gossip and board games.
“I loved hearing the stories,” the author said. “All people are storytellers. Most fundamental is gossip—not bad gossip—but the delicious stories of our every day life.”
A favorite Harshman book is “Rocks In My Pockets.” It’s the story of a farm family, living at the top of a windy hill, whose children carried rocks in their pockets so they wouldn’t get blown away (so their father told them).
“And not one of the children ever got blown away,” the author said.
There’s much more, but you must read the book.
“I often take real moments, real incidents and turn them into stories, using my imagination,” Harshman said.
The author said he likes to visit many areas of the country.
“I like to come to the little schools where I am treated like a conquering hero,” he said.
Harshman, who wrote his first book in 1989, said speaking with the children and listening to their questions is an inspiration to him.
“If I am planting seeds, I’ve been given a lovely gift that I can share,” he said.
Waterford students offered Harshman their own gift. It was a gigantic cloth “pocket” to store dozens of smooth rocks they had painted for him.
“I’ve gotten many gifts from school visits, but this is the first time I’ve gotten a pocket,” Harshman said with a smile. “I’ll remember Waterford.”
MITCH CASEY The Marietta Times
Noted author Marc Harshman of Wheeling, W.Va., gestures while telling a story through a slide show Monday during a presentation to Waterford Elementary School students.
Fact BoxAbout Marc Harshman
¯ West Virginia resident.
¯ Former fifth- and sixth-grade teacher.
¯ Wife, author Cheryl Ryan; daughter, Sarah.
¯ Author of 11 picture books for children, a poet and storyteller.
¯ Honored in 1994 with the Ezra Jack Keats/Kerlan Collection Fellowship from the University of Minnesota for research on Scandinavian myth and folklore.
¯ Named recipient in 2000 of the West Virginia Arts Commission Fellowship in Poetry.
¯ Degrees from Bethany College, Yale University Divinity School and University of Pittsburgh.
¯ Newest book is “Only One Neighborhood.”
¯ For more information: wwwmarcharshman.com.