Children’s author tours the Sewickley Valley

Tuesday, February 11, 2020 | 11:26 AM

There were plenty of “oohs” and “aahs” inside the gymnasium at Edgeworth Elementary as students excitedly learned what all goes into writing and illustrating a book.

Author Candace Fleming, who has had more than 45 children’s and young adult books published, entertained the crowd of kindergarten through second-graders with big hand motions and pictures of animals in the jungle, as she shared with them her writing techniques.

“I feel like I’m just being a cheerleader. I really want kids to know that they have their own voices, that they don’t have to do anything perfect. They can write a great story and have a lot of fun doing it,” said Fleming, 56, of Chicago, during her Feb. 10 visit.

The Sewickley Area librarians try to bring in at least one author a year to the area to share their craft with the community, said Gabriella Miller, school librarian at Edgeworth.

The group, which encompasses librarians and representatives from each Quaker Valley school, Sewickley Academy, St. James School, the Penguin Bookshop and the Sewickley Public Library, rotates authors that speak to different grade levels, so everyone — no matter their age — has a chance to learn.

Teachers tie the author visits into classroom lessons. For example, at Edgeworth, second-graders were tasked with coming up with an alternate ending for Fleming’s book “Oh, no!

Fleming, who has been writing all of her life, brought in her fifth-grade journal to show students that she once was like them. She even won a blue ribbon for her work.

“I think they see themselves (in the author) which is great,” Miller said.

Fleming, who has a master’s in American history, has been a professional writer for about 20 years.

When she had to stay home with her second son, who suffered a heart defect and often got sick, she found herself thinking, “I need something just for me,” she said.

So she started writing. Mostly, her early work was about her life and parenting.

She wrote a history piece and realized it was more geared toward children. So, she sent it into the only children’s magazine she knew of, Highlights. And the rest is history.

Fleming jokes that she’s known as “the woman who can do everything.” She writes fiction and nonfiction and for preschoolers and high schoolers.

“A lot of times I write what I think needs to be written, but it has to be something that I want to write,” she said.

Fleming spent two days sharing her story across the Sewickley Valley. She also talked to students at Osborne Elementary, Sewickley Academy, St. James School and visited the Sewickley Public Library and Penguin Bookshop.

Fleming took students at Edgeworth on a journey through the jungle — or what really was a family vacation — that led to the inspiration for “Oh, no!”

She talked about finding “story seeds” with her eyes and ears that she uses as plots for her writing. She then took students through the journey of illustrating a book. Her husband Eric Rohmann, sometimes serves as the illustrator for her pieces.

Josephine Groom, 7, a second-grader, who already is working on a book made out of paper and glue, said she was motivated by Fleming’s talk.

“I’m probably going to use one of her stories to make my own,” she said.

Josephine said she uses her imagination to come up with the stories she writes in her journal.

“I’m probably going to take the seeds that she had and I’m going to look around outside and see if I can find some,” she said.

Edison Kerley, 8, a second-grader, said he plans to follow the steps Fleming provided to help him with his writing.

“I just write anything, really. I’m really creative,” he said.

Fleming hopes the youngsters leave her talks knowing: “Books are magical. Their own voices are magical. Writing is magical. But it’s also fun,” she said. “I want them to feel about literature and writing the same way that I feel about literature and writing.”