After Heritage High School media specialist Rhonda Sixto had settled on the book she wanted students to read over last summer’s vacation, a thought popped into her mind: Wouldn’t it be cool if she could get the Colorado-based author to come to the school? It took many months of planning, but the big day finally arrived.
On Nov. 7, Melanie Crowder, author of “An Uninterrupted View of the Sky,” spoke to an assembly of HHS juniors and seniors, autographed copies of her books that were being sold by Star Line Books of Chattanooga in the library and conducted writing workshops for the school’s book club members.
Crowder’s book, one of six she’s written, was born of an experience she had when she was in college and spent a summer doing volunteer work in Bolivia. Crowder says that when people were imprisoned in Bolivia and there was no one to care for their children, the children sometimes had to live in prison with a parent. That’s the case in her fictional story. A brother and sister find themselves abandoned by their mother on a trip to visit their father who has been unjustly imprisoned due to local corruption and international politics. Prison becomes the children’s home — a dangerous, desperate place — and the brother becomes his sister’s caregiver and is forced to grapple with issues beyond his years.
“I was looking for a book that would hold all the students’ attention,” says Sixto, “even reluctant readers. They all loved this book.”
Crowder’s first book was published in 2011. She is currently working on her seventh. Her books have won numerous awards, including New York Public Library Best Book for Teens. She says she spends four hours a day writing and writes her first drafts while exercising on her treadmill. “My revisions are messy – papers everywhere, charts, notes all over the place,” she says.
The message Crowder says she wants to impress upon students is that “it’s important for them to share their own experience. Their own perspective is valuable. Whatever they do, society needs the heart and soul they put into it.”
Besides reading and writing, drinking coffee, playing book-related games of Pictionary and visiting with famous authors, HHS book club members volunteer within the community. “Every year,” says Sixto, “we go to the Ronald McDonald House and restock their library with new books Barnes & Noble customers have donated. We weed out old and damaged books and stock the shelves with hundreds of new ones for the children who stay there.” The students also help out at the Catoosa County Library.
Last year, Sixto arranged a visit from another award-winning author of young adult fiction, Jeff Zentner.