July 23, 2016

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Teacher-turned-writer talks to Medina students about his craft

Jordan Sonnenblick, author of "Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie," conducts a writing workshop for Power of the Pen students on Friday morning at Claggett Middle School in Medina (LOREN GENSON / THE GAZETTE)

MEDINA — Author Jordan Sonnenblick offered more than just literary insight when he visited with Medina students on Friday. Sonnenblick told students he struggled when he was in junior high — he was miserable about his glasses and asthma. He also felt hyperactive and misunderstood.

“I wish someone could have said to me, ‘Don’t worry, it’s OK; you’re going to grow up and be happy,” he said. “Because I can’t go back and tell myself that, I come around and tell you guys.”

Sonnenblick, the author of “Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie,” gave an hour presentation to sixth- and seventh-graders at Claggett Middle School on Friday before spending the day hosting writing workshops with other students around the city.

His visit was sponsored by the Medina County District Library.

Sonnenblick talked about the inspiration behind “Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie,” which he wrote while working as an eighth-grade teacher in New Jersey.

“For 33 years I had been saying I would write a book,” he said. “And then one day I met a student who changed my life.”

That student — named Emily — was always laughing in class. She also disrupted Sonnenblick’s English class. No matter how he arranged seats, she continued her infectious laugh.

During that school year, Sonnenblick learned Emily had a younger brother who was fighting cancer. He talked about how brave and supportive she was for her younger brother.

During a parent-teacher conference, Sonnenblick told Emily’s mother he thought the child was coping with her brother’s sickness very well.

“She said she’s not handling it well; she’s hiding it well,” Sonnenblick said. He said it never occurred to him that her outgoing and infectious laugh was just an act to pretend everything was OK.

“I went on a quest to find the perfect book to find for Emily — that she could read, that would be about a kid in her situation,” he said.

When he couldn’t find one. He decided to write one.

“Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie” was published less than a month after Emily’s brother died in spring 2004. Emily and her family came to the book signing.

Sonnenblick said he was panicked about what her family would think about the book, whose main character is a teenage boy whose brother is fighting cancer.

Emily’s mother called him.

“She said, ‘You got it right,’ “ he said.

Sonneblick had told the students earlier that there are two keys to happiness in life.

“Think of something you’re really good at, that you really love to do,” he said. “As soon as she said, ‘You got it right,’ I learned the second part of how to be happy as an adult.

“Find a way you can use that to make someone else’s life better.”

Students who attended the workshop said they enjoyed the experience.

Seventh-grader Nolan Andrasik, 13, did a short essay during the workshop. He said he appreciated the praise he earned from Sonnenblick.

“He taught us to be more creative,” Nolan said. “I’m going to use it in my writing.”

Eighth-grader Leah Steirer, 14, said she likes Sonnenblick’s style because it’s easy to read.

“I like how he doesn’t use all these extra detail words; it’s just to the point,” she said. “And I like how he makes his writing a little funny.”

Eighth-grader Becca Liebler, 14, said she learned “not to give the reader too much information” too soon.

“You have to save it for later in the book,” she said.

After Sonnenblick spoke with students, he spent the rest of the day conducting writing workshops with students.

He met with students involved in Power of the Pen competitions at Claggett Middle School before heading to A.I. Root to deliver a similar workshop.

Sonnenblick ended his day with a workshop at the Medina County Juvenile Detention Center.

During the workshop at Claggett, Sonnenblick talked students through an example of his writing and offered tips to improve.

He encouraged students to use powerful verbs and dialogue to develop characters, rather than long paragraphs with too many adjectives.

“It insults my reader to describe slush as cold,” he said. “Anyone who has ever stepped in slush in the winter knows it’s cold.”

Contact reporter Loren Genson at (330) 721-4063 or lgenson@medina-gazette.com.

Loren Genson About Loren Genson

Loren Genson was The Gazette's senior reporter. From August 2012 through September 2015, she covered Brunswick city and state and national government. To contact The Gazette, call the managing editor at (330) 721-4065.