For Rotary Clubs across the country, including Portsmouth, handing out dictionaries to students at local schools long has been kind of a tradition.
“We got a lot of feedback from teachers,” says Jay Willis, literacy chair for the Portsmouth Rotary Club, but who admits educators reported students often left the dictionaries untouched.
“Nobody uses dictionaries anymore,” Willis concedes. An aspiring writer himself as well as an attorney, Willis wanted to replace the dictionary program with something more up to date. However, he adds, Rotary always liked the idea of putting a physical book in the hands of students. Willis says many students in the county don’t own any books themselves.
“A lot of people don’t realize that,” he explains.
For a little help and advice, Willis consulted the South-Central Ohio Education Service Center. The upshot was, he decided bringing an author to town to speak with students might not be a bad idea. “We wanted to expand our project and do more.”
Willis also spoke with his own children who would attend local schools. They told him about a visit last year from young adult author Mindy McGinnis, an Edgar Award winner and author of several books. She reportedly left a great impression on her audience. McGinnis happens to be an Ohio native, and Willis says he wanted to work with an author from the state. Willis took the idea of bringing McGinnis to town to the Rotary board and the result is she will be in Portsmouth making several appearances Wednesday and Thursday. Rotary will be giving away copies of her book, “Not a Drop to Drink,” the story of a world in which water is so precious that a young woman must fight to protect her access to her only source of water. The book was a 2015 featured title in the State Library of Ohio’s “Choose to Read Ohio” program.
“I contacted Mindy through email, and we started corresponding, and I got to know her. I actually met her in person at the Ohioana Library Association meeting in April last year,” Willis says.
On the Rotary website, the group notes the book touches on a subject important to the international Rotary, which has long supported the digging of wells to supply clean water to remote communities around the world.
Among others, Shawnee State University is helping sponsor McGinnis’ appearance.
This morning, she will lecture at the university on the topic of podcasts. According to her website, McGinnis produces a regular podcast for would-be writers, “Writer, Writer Pants on Fire.” She will give another lecture at 3:30 p.m. on writing for children and young adults.
At 7:30 p.m., the author will appear at the Portsmouth Area Children’s Theater in an event open to the public, with the topic again being podcasts and how to create them. Willis says that subject is one of special interest to teens and youths who might want to produce podcasts of their own.
On Thursday morning, Willis said Rotary and SSU will be busing in about 400 eighth-grade students from around the county to hear McGinnis talk about her book and how she wrote it. From 4 to 5 p.m. Thursday, McGinnis will hold a book signing at the main branch of the Portsmouth Public Library. She will complete her visit with a final lecture at the library, the topic again being her book and writing, in general.
According to Willis, the important thing about McGinnis’ visit is that students will again end up with an actual book in their hands. In addition to Rotary and SSU, other sponsors of McGinnis’ appearance are the Portsmouth Public Library and the Portsmouth Area Arts Council.
Reach Tom Corrigan at 740-353-3101 ext. 1931