Hilliard Northwest News

New York author visits local elementary schools

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Alton Darby Elementary School students Mason Whiteley and Maggie Thompson were among the Hilliard students who had the opportunity to meet Charles R. Smith Jr., a New York poet and illustrator of children's books.
By ThisWeek Community News  • 

Two years after meeting Charles R. Smith Jr., a New York poet and illustrator of children's books, teacher Christina Dorr last week was able to bring him to Hilliard to share his talents with local students.

Smith spoke to students March 12 at Hilliard Horizon Elementary School and March 13 at Alton Darby Elementary School.

A grant from the Hilliard Education Foundation, as well as contributions from the PTAs of both elementary schools, funded the author's visit, which included a "family night" at each school, travel expenses and accommodations for Smith.

Dorr, an instructor at Alton Darby and Horizon elementary schools, first encountered Smith at a literary conference two years ago at Kent State University and was so impressed she sought to have him visit her schools.

"He's a poet, but he just doesn't recite his poetry -- he performs it," said Dorr, adding that she thought his sports themes would be of particular interest to adolescent boys in her classes.

Dorr applied for and received a grant from the Hilliard Education Foundation, secured the other required financing and then worked to arrange a time for Smith's visit, all of which proved to be a lengthy process.

Students in kindergarten through fifth grade were able to visit with Smith.

Smith is the author of 29 children's books, often illustrating them with his own photography, a childhood hobby that became a profession.

Reading and writing also were early passions for Smith that laid the groundwork for his profession.

Sports -- another childhood passion -- also are the subject matter of many of his books.

Smith said becoming an astronaut piqued his imagination until he found a camera.

"(As a child), I wanted to be an astronaut and walk on the moon, but after taking yearbook pictures nonstop for a year (at a California high school), I knew I wanted to learn how to be a professional photographer," said Smith, who graduated from the Brooks Institute of Photography and moved to New York.

Many of Smith's books are educational.

Brick by Brick explains the institution and abolition of slavery in America, while Stars in the Shadows tells the story of the Negro Leagues of professional baseball, prior to the sport's integration by Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby beginning in 1947.

A biography, Twelve Rounds to Glory: The Story of Muhammad Ali, won the 2008 Coretta Scott King Author Award and the 2008 Norman Sugarman Best Biography Award.

"My hope is that my poetry and books will motivate and inspire kids to achieve," Smith said. "I want to show students, particularly boys, that there are many ways to pursue their interests, no matter what they may be."

Smith said he visits about 30 schools each year, across all grade levels. He said he also speaks at colleges and universities and occasionally at juvenile detention centers and adult correctional facilities.

"I enjoy the messages in his books, his themes of perseverance, which I think are beneficial to all students," Dorr said.

Smith lives in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., with his wife and three children.

For more information about Smith and his publications, visit charlesrsmithjr.com.

-- CHRISTINA DORR

Hilliard teacher

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