On Monday, May 14 children’s author Stephen Shaskan enthralled the kindergarten classes at Spring Hill Elementary School with animated readings of his books. He also led the children, while accompanying himself on the guitar, in a spirited sing-along of popular songs like “If You’re Happy and you Know It.” Stephen’s mother, Karen Shaskan, a member of the Reading Buddies and the Glen Lakes Book Club arranged the visit.
The Minneapolis author has written and illustrated six children’s books and illustrated several others written by his wife, Trisha Speed Shaskan. Working as a preschool and after-school art teacher is what inspired Shaskan to write his books.
“I bring my experiences working with children into what I write and it’s always great to see children responding favorably to my books.”
Pat Shopmeyer Gagliano started the Reading Buddies program fourteen years ago. Approximately fifteen volunteers go to Spring Hill Elementary School one day a week to read one-on-one with the children there.
“The most satisfying thing [about reading with the children] is to see the kids get up to grade level and above. I don’t know who enjoys it more in the long run – the kids or the buddies,” Karen Shaskan states.
Mrs. Shaskan is also a member of the Glen Lakes Book Club which meets monthly to discuss a book they have read. In addition, the club raises about $900 a year to purchase books for Spring Hill Elementary and Winding Waters K-8 second graders. At Christmas they also donate books for each child.
“Our active membership is about sixty. We go through a four month nomination process [to decide what books to read]. In September, members nominate up to two books, stating the title, author, brief summary and an evaluation of the book. I compile the list and give one to each member at the November meeting. At our December meeting, the person who nominated the book tells us why we should pick their book and then we vote,” states Lois Oberlander, the club’s founder.
Stephen explains how he comes up with ideas for his books.
“Many of my ideas come directly from the children I’ve worked with. Max Speed is a story about a child with a big imagination who engages in adventurous pretend play; The Three Triceratops Tuff was based on three students who were pretending to play the Billy Goats Gruff as dinosaurs; Big Choo was from working with a child with autism and Downs Syndrome who loved Thomas trains.”
Shaskan continues, “Creating a picture book is a challenge because you have to tell a story that relates to children, use a limited word count (typically under 500 words) that parents want to read over and over and have a strong use of poetic language. And it all has to make logical sense. I have book ideas I’ve been working on for nine years that I haven’t gotten right yet.”
In addition to children’s books, Shaskan and his wife have also collaborated on a series of young graphic novels, Q & Ray, about a second grade hedgehog and a rat that solve mysteries.
Programs such as Reading Buddies and author’s presentations at schools instill a love for reading in children who may one day go on to join book clubs or perhaps become authors, themselves.