Author Edward Bloor received the ultimate compliment from 13-year-old Lindsay Strunk when he visited Saunders Middle School on Thursday to talk about writing and his novel "Tangerine."
"I read 115 pages in the first day because I couldn't put the book down," said Lindsay, a seventh-grader who stood in line for Bloor's autograph. "I like how he expresses things."
"His characters are really like how we act today," added sixth-grader Kelly Harper, 12.
A review by the American Library Association says Bloor is "a writer to watch." At Saunders, close to 500 students got to watch as Bloor talked about his slightly spooky first novel, which is about a young teen, Paul Fisher, and his evil older brother as they cope with life in fictional Tangerine, Fla.
Bloor's visit, as well as a visit by author Ruth White ("Belle Prater's Boy," "Sweet Creek Holler") were more than just publicity trips: They were planned and arranged (with some adult help) by the 26 students in a sixth-grade writing class taught by Cindy Dussia.
"We read an article in the newspaper about an author visit at another school, and we got kind of jealous because we wanted an author visit, too," said Lauren Lickiss, 11.
The students came up with a list of authors they wanted to see, including Bloor, White, Gary Paulsen and Paul Fleischman. Teachers and librarians contacted publishers. After White and Bloor agreed to come, the students raised $200 of the $1,300 needed to pay for the visits. Potomac Hospital added $800, and the school gave $300.
White, whose books reflect her own background of growing up in the Appalachians, spent May 14 at the school. Bloor, a former middle school teacher, was making his first visit to a school outside of his home state of Florida.
"Oh, the fans are great," he said. His experience with middle-schoolers is what led him to write "Tangerine," said Bloor, who is also an editor for publisher Harcourt Brace. "I wanted to do a book about middle-school students," he said. "When they see kids dealing with problems, it gives them a leg up."
One powerful scene in "Tangerine" depicts portable classrooms sucked into a huge sinkhole. When he showed the book to his friends at a pizza party before publication, they said they loved the scene.
"When you give people pizza, they're going to love your book," Bloor said.
But his publisher wanted him to drop the sinkhole scene because it seemed too unrealistic. The scene remained intact, and the Saunders students said it was one of their favorite parts.
"When you read it, the way he describes it with the sounds and all makes it very realistic," said sixth-grader Sarah Crete, 11.
Bloor's fans can see him today at Chinn Park Regional Library, 13065 Chinn Park Dr. in Woodbridge, where he will be speaking and signing books beginning at 2 p.m. And they can look forward to the publication of his second novel, "Crusader," in the fall.
The purpose of the author visits to Saunders was to teach students about the writing process and to show them that there is a real person behind their favorite novels, Dussia said.
The students think the visits succeeded. Marjaan Nusraty, 14, showed Bloor a poem she wrote. She plans to read "Tangerine" this summer. "I've read the prologue, and it looks really cool," she said.
"Everybody got to learn a little bit," said Kelly Harper, one of the students who helped arrange the visit.
"We all want to go home now and write a book," added Tina Wolf, 11.
CAPTION: Author Edward Bloor, above, speaks to Saunders Middle School students Thursday about the writing and publishing process. At left, Tertia Baldwin, Jackie Sigethy and Rachel Proctor follow along as Bloor reads from his first novel, "Tangerine," which is a favorite of many Saunders students.
CAPTION: Edward Bloor signs a copy of his first novel, "Tangerine," for Saunders student Jackie Sigethy, right, as Jenna Rosenberger and Rick Kellerman wait to have their books signed. The book is about a young teen and his older brother coping with life. Students say Bloor's characters are realistic.