Children's Literature Conference on March 20 Focuses on Communications Skills

Children's authors Suzanne Fisher Staples and Jerry Pallotta both believe in teaching communication skills, but in very different ways.

Staples writes stories about children of many cultural backgrounds, with an important message about intercultural communication. Pallotta, on the other hand, literally spells out fundamental reading skills in his alphabet books.

Staples and Pallotta headline this year's Tennessee Technological University Literature Conference: Preschool to Adolescence, a free day-long event on Saturday, March 20, for parents, teachers, students and those who appreciate literature. After pre-registration at 7:45 a.m. in the Roaden University Center and an 8 a.m. welcome, Staples will give the conferenceÕs keynote address at 8:45 a.m.

"I grew up loving books," said Staples. "My grandmother read to us every day and bribed us with stories to help in her rock garden. There, among the bleeding hearts and irises and peonies, I decided I wanted to be a writer."

She became a journalist, but it wasn't until a visit to Pakistan that Staples found the motivation to become a novelist.

"There was something about the camels, the ancient stories and blue-tiled mosques, and people who build shrines where a beautiful poem was written, that set my heart to singing," she said. "And there was something about our ignorance here in the West about Islamic people that made me know a story about this place needed to be told."

The resulting novel, Shabanu (Alfred A. Knopf, 1989), was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year and a Newbery Honor Book. SheÕs also the author of the Shabanu sequel Haveli and Dangerous Skies.

Pallotta, known for his award-winning children's alphabet books, has written 17 titles for Charlesbridge Publishing. His newest is The Jet Alphabet Book. A frequent speaker at elementary schools and libraries across the country, Pallotta will give a presentation at Saturday's conference at 11 a.m.

Illustrator Bryant Owens and his author/collaborator, Thelma Kerns, will also be on hand at the conference. Owens, a Cookeville resident, has illustrated five children's books, including Flea Market Fleas from A to Z.

Throughout the day, participants can choose among interest sessions, including discussions on new children's books, poetry, publishing and writing, multiethnic literature and many other topics. Participants are also welcome to browse through the various publishers' exhibits, where books can be purchased at competitive prices.

Following the conference luncheon at noon, local storyteller Bettye Kash will give a talk at 12:45 p.m., and a booksigning session will take place from 1:15 to 3 p.m.

There is no charge to attend the conference, but pre-registration before March 17 is encouraged. Luncheon reservations are required, and the cost is $8. Call Connie Nichols at 372-3791 to pre-register and make luncheon reservations.

The annual literature conference is sponsored by Tennessee Tech's College of Education and Rural Education Consortium, and funded in part by the Tennessee Humanities Council, an independent affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.