Book author Julia Cook, who has published 134 volumes for children and whose work has sold more than 3 million copies in nine languages worldwide, visited John Mills Elementary School on Thursday, Sept. 9.
The Nebraska-based writer spoke in the Trojan gym to grades K-2 in the morning and grades 3-5 in the afternoon.
She read passages from several of her works, all of which deal with specific topics of importance to the social-emotional development of children.
To the delight of her audiences, she also introduced everyone to her canine companions, Kirby and Tommy, a crowd-pleasing pair of apple head Chihuahuas.
In between the large assemblies, Ms. Cook had conversations with two smaller groups of 5th graders. During these sessions, she went into detail about the writing process and how books are published. She also took questions from students and teachers.
For the younger students, Ms. Cook organized her presentation around issues related to focus, body control, sibling rivalry and recess. For the older students, she talked about themes of stress, rules, integrity and responsibility.
The day before, Ms. Cook visited Elmwood Elementary School, where she spoke to assemblies of K-2 and 3-5 students. She also visited classrooms to answer questions and speak in greater detail about her writing.
Using Stories to Help Children Help Themselves
This two-day visit marked the first time Ms. Cook spoke at District 401 schools. But being around students is nothing new for the former school guidance counselor.
Prior to writing her first book 17 years ago, Ms. Cook worked as a counselor and teacher in Nebraska and Utah. Before the COVID pandemic, she traveled up to 311 days a year visiting schools around the world.
She transitioned to full-time writing after she wrote a story for her daughter and realized that conveying lessons through fictional characters was an effective way to reach children.
"Kids don't come with instructions," Ms. Cook said after one of her assemblies this week. "So it's really hard to know how to tell them things without preaching to them. But if you read them a book and the book has great social skills in it, they let you in."
For Ms. Cook, who has a master's degree in elementary school counseling, the key to helping children overcome obstacles and solve problems is to give them the tools to make good decisions. This is why, in her view, stories can be so powerful in a child's development.
"If the kid in the book struggles and you the reader do what the kid in the book does, you can overcome the struggle by watching what they do and listening and reading about it," she said.
Thank you for visiting District 401, Ms. Cook — and keep on reading, Trojans!
Julia Cook at John Mills School
The following photos were taken during Julia Cook's conversation with John Mills 5th graders. All photos are by District 401 web/media specialist Dave Porreca. Click images for larger view.