Author: ‘Wait for your brain to get quiet’

Laurel Snyder, author of 25 children's books, visited students at seven area schools to share the story of how she became a writer. She encouraged them to find a magical place where their brains could get quiet and wake up.

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March 30, 2022 - 2:57 PM

Laurel Snyder talks about the importance of boredom with Jefferson Elementary School students on Tuesday morning as part of the Author Visit Program. Photo by Vickie Moss / Iola Register

“What if you didn’t have a Switch?”

Horrified gasps filled the air of the gymnasium at Jefferson Elementary School as first and second grade students imagined life without their beloved handheld video game device.

“What if you didn’t have an iPad?”

More gasps.

Author Laurel Snyder continued.

“Or a computer?”

This time, gasps were followed by low murmuring. What kind of dystopian society did this woman grow up in?

Then, Snyder asked what they might do to pass the time without those devices.

“Ride my bike.”

“Play with friends.”

“Dance.”

“Draw.”

And, finally, the answer she’d been waiting for: “Read a book.”

Snyder loved to read books when she was a child. She would check out 10 books at the library at the start of the weekend, and finish them all by the end. 

Author Laurel Snyder dances to illustrate a point and entertain students.Photo by Vickie Moss / Iola Register

But without books to read or computers to distract her, she’d get bored.

And when she got bored, that’s when the magic happened.

“Your brain gets to this place where it’s a blank piece of paper. You feel like your brain is doing nothing,” she said. “But what’s happening is your brain is waking up.”

She would lay down on the floor of her room and stare at a crack in the ceiling. Soon, the crack became a dragon. A hungry dragon who liked pizza.

Thus began Snyder’s lifelong love of storytelling. 

She’s now the published author of 25 books for children, both chapter books and picture books.

She visited seven area schools on Tuesday and Wednesday as part of the Author Visit Program. The program is made possible by a grant from the Helen Gates Whitehead Trust.

SNYDER discussed her writing career with kindergarten through fifth grade students in an interactive and very engaging fashion.

She asked questions the crowd was eager to answer, such as “What do you want to do when you grow up?”

She talked to them about a time when she was young and sad, when her parents got divorced. She shared the story about discovering magic and storytelling. She told them about her best friend, Susan, and how they wrote books together by fashioning small pieces of paper together. She even showed them one of those tiny, early books.

Laurel Snyder talks with Jefferson Elementary School students on Tuesday morning as part of the Author Visit Program. Photo by Vickie Moss / Iola Register

She and Susan were afraid if they shared their books with someone, they’d be laughed at. Eventually, they gathered their nerves and showed a teacher. 

Everyone has at least one special teacher, Snyder said. Someone who supports and inspires them.

This particular teacher not only insisted the girls read the book to their class, she was clever enough to do it in a way that no one would laugh at them. She told the class there would be a test over the material, so the students paid close attention and took it seriously.

They had written a book, the girls realized. 

“What made it a book?” Snyder asked the students at Jefferson.

After a series of guesses, Snyder told them the answer: “Someone read it.”

IT TOOK years to publish her first book, Snyder told the students.

She sent her story to publisher after publisher, until one editor responded with a thoughtful letter and advice: She needed to make her characters stronger.

She did, and eventually her first book, “Up and Down the Scratchy Mountain,” was published.

That led to an important lesson, which Snyder asked the students to repeat.

“Thank you so much for that helpful feedback.”

Instead of being hurt when someone gives you advice or criticism, consider it an opportunity to improve, she said.

Author Laurel Snyder talks to Jefferson Elementary School first and second grade students as part of the Iola Reads Author Visit Program. Snyder visited students from seven area schools on Tuesday and Wednesday.Photo by Vickie Moss / Iola Register

She encouraged the students to tell their stories, especially their experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Kids don’t usually get to tell the stories,” she said. “If kids can tell the stories, 100 years from now we’re going to be reading about what it was like for kids to live through the pandemic.” 

After a question and answer session, Snyder reminded students of the importance of boredom.

“You need to turn your brain off and wait for your brain to get quiet.”

That’s when the magic happens.

SNYDER’S books include “Orphan Island,” “Charlie and Mouse,” “Bigger than a Breadbox,” and “Swan, the Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova.”

Students were given the opportunity to purchase some of her books, which were delivered before the visit.

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