Young Adult Author M.H. Herlong Visits the University Laboratory School


M.H. Herlong, author of young adult novels Buddy and The Great Wide Sea, visited middle school students at the LSU University Laboratory School (Lab School), part of the LSU College of Human Sciences & Education, on Tuesday, October 28, and Wednesday, October 29, 2014. The visit was coordinated by the Lab School Library.

On Tuesday, Herlong presented to 7th and 8th grade students and attended the 7th grade Community Read event that evening. The Community Read is an event that brings students, parents, siblings, teachers, and librarians together to share the joy of reading.  Seventh grade students were invited to read Buddy with their family members and discuss their thoughts about and reactions to the book, its characters, and the issues it raises. They then gathered for an evening of book talk and refreshments. 

“What drew me to LSU was the opportunity to do something very special,” Herlong shared of her partnership with the Lab School’s library. “I jumped at the chance. I have never been able to do anything quite so up-close-and-personal with such involved families. With such a highly energetic and innovative librarian at the helm, it is not surprising that the event grew.”

“Having Ms. Herlong present for our Community Read made this year’s event especially meaningful,” said head librarian Dr. Charity Cantey. “To be part of an event with such energy and enthusiasm about reading is an incredibly rewarding experience for a librarian.  It was a delight to see our students and their families come together with the author to form a community of readers.”

As Herlong mingled throughout the large crowd, students and parents were able to chat with her, ask questions about the book, and share their own thoughts with the author. Herlong also shared what inspired her books and her writing processes with the students and their families. 

“Easily themost rewarding aspect of interacting with young readers is the time when they ask questions,” Herlong shared. “Their questions range from the shall-we-say-youthful ‘Why did you wear your hair like that in the eighth grade?’ to insightful inquiries about character motivation and narrative structure (although they don't necessarily use those terms) to the educational.”

The author said she too learned something about her own writing from the students when one young fan asked whether she had intended a particular symbol in The Great Wide Sea

“I had not and was amazed to learn that what was accidental on my part worked beautifully on a symbolic level and had been discovered by an eighth grade student,” she shared.

Barbara Benton, Reading/Writing Workshop (the Lab School’s term for English courses) teacher for all of the Lab School’s 112 7th graders said that Herlong’s visit encouraged her students’ critical thinking and social skills.

“The Community Read is a wonderful time for the kids to talk about a book together. When a book is the common thread between students, everyone is on equal footing, from the jocks to the bookworms,” said Benton. “It becomes ‘cool’ to talk about the book. It inspires the students to think and share and problem solve. And this in turn leads to more conversations about books. I often hear my students recommending books to each other, and that’s the best recommendation that there is!”

In addition, Benton said having the opportunity to meet with a real live author who shared her own struggles and successes as a writer may have also nurtured some students’ bigger dreams.

“Many students harbor secret (or not so secret) desires to someday publish a book themselves, and meeting an author who has actually done this helps the students to realize that this kind of dream can become a reality.”

On Wednesday, Herlong made visits to 6th grade Reading/Writing classes throughout the day. She also had lunch with a small group of students on each day of her visit, winners of a contest to have lunch with the author by creating an advertisement for or response to one of her books. 

In preparation for the visit, each middle school student was given a copy of one of her books—Buddy for 6th and 7thgrade students, and The Great Wide Sea for 8th grade students. Middle school classes read and discussed the books before Herlong’s visit and were very excited to have the opportunity to meet the author in person and ask her questions about her work, something the author was thrilled to see.

“Students--people--tend to believe that writers just sit down and scrawl out a book, which is perfect from Day One.  Because the students themselves can't write a perfect essay or story, they believe they can't write.  They are wrong,” said Herlong. “When a writer comes into the classroom, the students discover that writers are ordinary people just like them and that writers work very hard at what they do.  In the best of all possible worlds, not only are the students encouraged to believe more in their own writing but they also transfer the idea of working to do their best to whatever their personal ambition may be.”

Herlong's visit was sponsored by the ULS Foundation and a part of the Middle School's Author Series.

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About University Lab School
The University Laboratory School was established by the College of Education, now known as the College of Human Sciences & Education, of Louisiana State University and has operated under its auspices for nearly 100 years. This coeducational school exists as an independent system to provide training opportunities for pre- and in-service teachers and to serve as a demonstration and educational research center. The school is located on the main campus of LSU in Baton Rouge.

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 About CHSE
The College of Human Sciences & Education (CHSE) is a nationally accredited division of Louisiana State University. Formed in 2012, CHSE brings together programs and capitalizes on individual strengths to create a dynamic new college that addresses the socially significant issues we face as a state and nation. The College is comprised of the School of Education, the School of Leadership and Human Resource Development, the School of Kinesiology, the School of Library and Information Science, the School of Social Work, and the University Laboratory School. These combined schools offer 8 undergraduate degree programs and 18 graduate programs, enrolling more than 1,900 undergraduate and 977 graduate students. The College is committed to achieving the highest standards in teaching, research, and service and is continually working to improve its programs.

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