"Outside a dog a book is man's best friend, inside a dog it is too dark to read!" -Groucho Marx

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Author Visit with Paul Volponi






Monday was a special day for me and for an English class full of high school juniors. Why? Because we had an Skype visit with Paul Volponi, the author of over ten books for teens. In preparation for the visit, each student read one of his books and wrote out questions they would like to ask Mr. Volponi about the book they read or about his writing style. I contacted the district for technology support to establish the Skype connection and to set up microphones so that all of us could see and hear what was going on.

The experience was exhilarating. Students were invited to join Paul in the front to ask questions and to interact with him.  To begin our "visit", Paul told the students how he wasn't a reader when he was in school and the techniques he used to fool the teacher. This built an instant bond between the author and his audience. Students could relate to him. In addition to talking about writing, he engaged students by playing "games" with them, connecting in a way that I wouldn't have thought possible considering the remote nature and the lack of proximity of our visit. The ten kids who came forward asked very astute questions. One girl asked him if he had meant to make the characters seem like stereotypes. Another wanted to know if any of the characters were real. The last questioner wanted to talk to Paul about basketball and the issue of compensation of NCAA athletes. Paul Volponi answered each question with candor and thoughtfulness. He was charming and funny.  When the bell rang at the end of class, no one wanted to leave.  In fact, when I went back to debrief with the class the next day, many students commented how enthralled they were and how they didn't want the experience to end when it did. All the adults who participated in the experience felt the same way.

Just prior to this session I finished reading my third Volponi book, Black and White, which is about two high school basketball players, one black and one white. They commit a crime together and their experience with the justice system is vastly different. The book sheds a light on racial inequalities as it relates to teens. Paul Volponi explained that he had been a high school teacher for five years at Ryker's Island. Nearly all of his students in the prison were black or Hispanic, not white. It was very obvious that kids of color were not receiving a fair deal by the penal system. He exposed a bit of that in this book. Published in 2005, the story is told in two voices in alternating chapters, the book's messages are still relevant today. In fact, I think the book would make an excellent book for students to discuss in a class setting.

To learn more about Paul Volponi I recommend that you visit his website. If you are reading this Paul, thank you for the visit!


 

1 comment:

  1. You are so good! I got an email from Volponi about doing a Skype visit and haven't done it. And now the school year is coming to an end. I love the idea of having a class of students each read one of his books before the "visit". That was one of my concerns: who would come, but if it's a class, that's great. I'll remember this for next year

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