By Linda Dillman
An acclaimed author of mystery books for younger readers—likened to “DaVinci Code” tales for tweens—is coming to Canal Winchester’s Winchester Trail Elementary School on March 24 and bringing with her a unique perspective into the writing process as a former teacher.
Author Blue Balliett’s mysteries combine real settings – like the Frank Lloyd Wright Robie House in Hyde Park or Chicago’s Public Library – with real-world ingredients such as a Langston Hughes book, classic paintings or a Calder sculpture to bring literature to life.
“Balliett is an award winning, bestselling author of several titles that are hugely popular with our third through fifth grade students,” said Canal Winchester Schools Media Specialist Janie Kantner. “She is a very accomplished educator who provides impactful presentations that connect our students and books. Her books are popular because they feature kids solving mysteries that our own students can relate to. She encourages her readers to be thinkers and problem solvers and it is empowering to kids of all ages.”
Kantner said she booked Balliett’s appearance a year ago and teachers in the building have generated excitement by reading her books aloud in the classroom since the beginning of the year.
Balliett’s titles are popular with students and there are long waiting lists for each of the multiple copies of Balliett’s books in the school library. Balliett will spend the day with students at Winchester Trail presenting 45-minute interactive discussions with students in each grade level.
The author’s books, which include “Hold Fast,” “Nantucket Ghosts,” “The Danger Box,” “Chasing Vermeer” and “Pieces and Players,” a 2015 Agatha Award Nominee for Best Children’s/Young Adult Novel, incorporate themes that traverse many academic content areas including art, math, science and current social issues like homelessness.
Teachers and students have explored a few of the themes with cross-curricular classroom projects.
“I just want them to have a fun experience centered around reading and books – hopefully an experience that they will want to repeat throughout their lives,” said Kantner. “My goal is to give our students experiences that broaden their interests…to connect with a real live author may inspire their own writing endeavors in the future. Our students have many options for role models and I want to do my part to keep authors and artists in the forefront. It is helpful to connect to authors to build a rich reading life – choosing books and viewing yourself as a reader is enhanced by knowing an author’s work you like.”
Previous author visits to the school include J. Patrick Lewis, Gordon Korman, Deborah Wiles, Christopher and Jeannette Canyon, David Catrow, Candace Fleming, and Miranda Paul. The presentations, which alternate between the district’s two elementary schools on an annual basis, are funded by the Indian Trail/Winchester Trail Parent Teacher Organization, also known as the Trails PTO.
“They have funded all of our author visits and other expenses connected with the visit (author’s travel and meals, additional books) are paid for by the proceeds from our elementary book fairs,” said Kantner.
According to the author’s website—blueballiettbooks.com—Balliett won the Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Juvenile Novel among many other awards. Balliett’s books appear in 35 languages. She grew up in New York City, studied art history at Brown University and has lived in Chicago for many years. She was a classroom teacher at The University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, but now writes fulltime, working in the laundry room of the Hyde Park home she shares with her husband. The couple has three kids, a new grandson and a “large and cowardly cat.”