STANTON — Author Katherine Applegate lives more than 2,300 miles away from Janet Connolly’s third grade classroom at Central Montcalm Upper Elementary School, but thanks to the marvels of modern technology, distance was not a factor in bringing the popular author in front of third and fourth grade students Wednesday afternoon.
Applegate was in her San Francisco, Calif., home while dozens of students in Stanton were sitting in Connolly’s classroom, but thanks to an online virtual video chat presented by Google Hangout, Applegate was able to interact directly with students in real time, answering questions about her profession and book, “The One and Only Ivan,” which all of the students had read.
Along with students in Stanton, a classroom of students in Wyoming was also involved in the video chat.
Once she arrived in the virtual chat room, Connelly picked up her laptop and turned it toward her student audience for Applegate to see.
“Oh my goodness, there are so many of you!” Applegate exclaimed upon seeing the students. “There must be so many young writers out there in the audience.”
Applegate returned the favor by showing the students the view of San Francisco Bay from her porch window.
Interacting with students online via video chat is no foreign task for Applegate. She participates through The Global Read Aloud program, which connects authors with students to educate them about the importance of reading and writing.
“I have been doing endless (online video chatting) over the last couple of months and it is the most wonderful way to connect with classrooms,” Applegate said. “I think it’s so cool that I can sit here and look at these different classrooms at the same time and see your audience. To talk to kids, it’s just so much fun as they have the most insightful, fascinating and brilliant questions.”
Applegate was brought to Connolly’s classroom after Connolly submitted an entry into a contest which included 150 entries from around the world and was selected, along with four other winners.
“When I applied for this contest, I wrote her about how inspired the kids were by her book and how hard it is for kids to get that excited about a particular book,” Connolly said. “It was so cool that we were all able to be in the same place at the same time, though be it online.”
Students asked Applegate questions about what inspired her to write her book, what it takes to become an author and about her roots to the state of Michigan.
Third-grader Brent Wonch, 8, was excited to hear Applegate answer his question about where she lived in Michigan.
“It was actually pretty cool,” Wonch said. “She said she was born in Ann Arbor.”
Wonch said he would love to be able to video chat again in the future while in class.
“If we could do this again, I’d like to speak to my favorite author, Eric Carle,” he said.
According to Applegate’s official website, her book character Ivan is an easygoing gorilla living at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade. He has grown accustomed to humans watching him through the glass walls of his domain and he rarely misses his life in the jungle.
It is after Ivan meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from her family, that Ivan see their home — and his own art — through new eyes. When Ruby arrives, change comes with her, and it’s up to Ivan to make it a change for the better.
Applegate told students she was inspired by a newspaper article when writing her story, which was based off of a true story.
“I wrote Ivan because I read a story about a real gorilla trapped in a mall for 27 years,” she told the students. “I read it in a newspaper and I wanted to tell that story, but I wasn’t sure how to tell it because I had never written from the point of view of a gorilla before.”
Applegate described writing techniques such as “free-writing” to the students, which she said helped her to get through areas of writer’s block at times in her career.
After a half hour of asking questions, students waved goodbye to Applegate, having nearly forgotten that she was on the other end of the country.
“If we can contact people from around the world, just by using a computer, we can learn so much,” Connolly said. “It opens our mind and broadens our horizons.”