WALLA WALLA - When children's book author Jon Scieszka takes to the Cordiner Hall stage on Monday, he will be surrounded by some familiar characters.
A stinky cheese man, a misunderstood wolf, a squid, an octopus, and some lively trucks will be just some of Scieszka's characters brought to life in stage props made entirely by local students.
Scieszka, an award-winning and critically acclaimed children's book author, will speak to the region's elementary school students this week as part of the 2011 Walla Walla Kids Read event.
Created by local author Patrick Carman and having its first run in 2007, Walla Walla Kids Read is an effort to expose local children to nationally recognized authors and illustrators to encourage a love of reading and the arts.
In-class lessons and projects on the author's works help teachers and students prepare for the event. And in what is becoming a tradition at Berney Elementary, the school's Homelink students have for the second year in a row created stage props that will complement the author's lectures.
Vicki Shafer said her art students prepared for the job by first going through Scieszka's books, looking for striking main characters.
From there, the students made sketches of the characters that were then made into transparencies that could be magnified with a projector onto a wall. That helped the students redraw the characters, this time in larger scale, to create the cutouts that would then be painted into props.
The result is an eclectic mix of silly creatures, all borrowed from Scieszka's imagination, they include the famed cheese man, a squid enjoying an ice-cream cone, and some trucks with personality.
Jenny Reich and Dominic Kjeldgaard, both eighth-graders in the Homelink program, created a massive dollar bill that will be suspended behind Scieszka on the stage so Scieszka can stand directly where a president's bust would normally be.
The dollar-bill idea came after reading "The Math Curse," one of Scieszka's works about a student who is consumed by math problems during a day.
"They had the dollar bills kind of come to life," Riech said about the book.
Kjeldgaard said the giant bill was a challenge because of all the details, but fun to produce nonetheless.
Both students said they saw the benefit of bringing authors to the community.
"I think it makes the books more real to kids if they see the author," Reich said.
Another group of students chose two main characters from "Smash! Crash!," a title from Scieszka's Trucktown series for younger readers, and incorporated Squid from Scieszka's "Squids will be Squids" fables.
"Smash! Crash!," JohnPaul Sharkey, 13, explained, is "a series he did about these trucks that go around this town, and these trucks have a problem with smashing and crashing."
The kids illustrated Izzy, an ice-cream truck from the Trucktown books, and Jack truck, then added Squid eating an ice-cream cone riding on top of Izzy.
Sharkey explained there are even more truck characters in the Trucktown series, each with their own personality. Like a garbage truck that pretends to be a pirate, said Aaron Richardson, 12.
The students said they were looking forward to Scieszka's visit in particular because they would get to see Scieszka surrounded by their art.
"I think it will be really interesting to have him in front of all our art," Sharkey said.
Emily Leinweber, 13, said she was excited the Kids Read event would be broadcast to other schools around the country.
Hannah Thiel, 14, said painting the props to get the right colors and shades was the most fun.
All the students who worked on props for Scieszka's visit also worked on self-portraits that will hang in Cordiner Hall. But these won't be traditional portraits. In the spirit of Scieszka's quirky characters, the students borrowed a detail from one of his best-known works, "The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs!," where Scieszka appears at the end of the book in atypical form.
"We're all going to be transformed into wolves," Leinweber said.
Authors from past Kids Read events - like David Shannon, Judy Schachner, and Blue Balliett - continue to draw student interest. That list now includes Scieszka.
"They're always checked out," Berney and Green Park librarian Michelle Shaul said about Kids Read authors' books.
After Balliett's visit last year, Berney students got hooked on the author's suspenseful books that look at art, science and architecture as holders of greater truths.
That's why students are now crazed with pentomino puzzles, and have started checking out unexpected titles.
"Who would have thought kids would check out Frank Lloyd Wright books?" Shaul said.
MEET THE AUTHOR
What: Free community event with authors Jon Scieszka, Patrick Carman, and past Kids Read author David Shannon.
Where: Edison Elementary, 1315 E. Alder St.
When: 6-8 p.m. Tuesday.
Details: The authors will be on hand to sign books, available for purchase on site. Meet the Stinky Cheese man, and take photos with other notable characters. The event is free and open to the public.
2011 Walla Walla Kids Read
This year's Kids Read event features Jon Scieszka, author of the children's literature hits "The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales," "The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs!," and the "Trucktown" series of books. Scieszka will speak to kindergarten through fifth-grade students from Walla Walla and College Place on Monday and Tuesday.
For more information and a complete schedule visit wallawallakidsread.com.