"Gaining language gains power," explained children's author Bruce Coville, following his presentation to Roark Elementary students. "What I talk to them about is the power of language to change hearts and minds. You get attention to something that's a problem by jumping around and screaming and yelling. But you don't change anybody's mind that way. You change their minds with clear, powerful, persuasive language."
Coville has published, by his own count, 95 books. The teacher-turned-writer spoke as part of a new community speakers series, sponsored by the Texas Rangers Baseball Foundation and The Story Book House in partnership with the Arlington Public Library Foundation and the Arlington Chamber of Commerce Foundation.
The initiative will enlist authors and illustrators of children's books to speak at Arlington schools during the day and at library-sponsored events in the evenings.
The Story Book House owner, Matthew Abramowitz, described the benefits he expects children to realize from the program.
"It's having an imagination," he said. "It's being able to go home, whether you have a lot of money or don't have a lot of money, to be able to go home and dream, and draw, or write."
Coville's talk aimed to both inspire the Roark students to realize Abramowitz's vision, as well as give them some tools with which to do so. The author proved as engaging at telling stories as at writing them. As Coville told a story about a monster, his growls and stomps grabbed his audience's attention. Once he had them engrossed, he explained the process that helped draw them in.
He called writing "the art of using details" and told the children how to ask questions about characters to help develop their own stories.
"By asking questions and inventing scenes that answer them, you end up with a story," Coville said.
When a girl asked him about writing books with alien teacher characters -- after explaining that most of her own instructors were not, in fact, aliens -- Coville said, "One reason I write about aliens is to look at ourselves from the outside." He added that one does not have to write about what one knows, but "what one cares about."
"What I really want to do is get them excited about books and reading," Coville said. "The trick to get them into reading to begin with, which is an important part of the professional life they'll have, is to hook them on the pleasure of reading."
The Children's Authors Series will continue that mission October 21 when author/illustrator/producer Dan Yaccarino will participate. The program has scheduled speakers through May 2011.