By Dustin Luca
---- — West Elementary School students saw more than a dozen authors, illustrators and storytellers during the school’s Readers’ and Writers’ Conference held the last two weeks.
Among the highlights was the visit from Ethan Zohn, a professional soccer player who won Survivor Africa in 2002. Zohn, also an author, used a portion of his winnings to co-found Grassroot Soccer, an international organization that uses pro soccer players to educate youth about the dangers of HIV/AIDS.
The event is an annual tradition celebrated by school staff and parents in the West El. community. In addition to the artists, parents come to West Elementary during the week to see the students’ stories, plays and illustrations.
“Every child has an author, illustrator, storyteller, or some talent that needs to be unlocked inside them,” West Elementary School Principal Liz Roos said. “They can see these people — [the artists] are not straight A students that went through school. They’ll tell their life story, and a kid may connect with that and take off from there.”
Roos said parents quickly become fans of the program when they see it.
“I’ve already had several emails from parents about kids coming home and writing, unlocking the writer in even them,” Roos said.
The theme of the presentations by the storytellers this year was “giving back,” according to Roos.
Zohn, for instance, has given back not only through his grassroots soccer program, but by serving as National Ambassador for Stand Up 2 Cancer (SU2C) and he later spearheading the national awareness and fundraising campaign called “Survivor Stands Up 2 Cancer,” an alliance between CBS, Survivor, and SU2C.
Zohn was also featured for his work in the documentary film “A Closer Walk,” according to Roos.
He co-hosts the Saturday ABC TV series, “Everyday Health,” Roos said. The show highlights someone confronting a serious health issue while at the same time leading philanthropic efforts.
Zohn is also a co-author of a series of books for young readers. Each book takes readers on a journey through a different country, allowing them to learn about different cultures, all while enjoying soccer.
Zohn also took a moment to enjoy some soccer at recess with second, third, fourth and fifth graders, Roos said.
Originally set to present the artists to students over the course of one week, a second week of the conference was held to bring in talents that were rescheduled from their original performances on Friday, March 8, a snow day.
MONDAY, MARCH 4 ALASTAIR MOOCK - folk musician with a 15-year career on the international folk circuit, founder of the "Pastures of Plenty" new roots music series STEVEN KRASNER - a retired sports journalist and current author of children's books, known best for covering the Boston Red Sox for The Providence Journal, which he did from 1986 until his retirement in 2008 SUZIE HEARL CANALE - Andover native, children's book author, the mind behind "The Beantown Tales" series geared towards educating children to make positive changes for society TUESDAY, MARCH 5 DAVID HYDE COSTELLO - writer of children's stories, songs, and plays, with extensive background in theatre and visual arts. DAVID ELLIOT - Author of children's picture and chapter books, including "the Cool Crazy Crickets Club" and "Evangeline Mudd and the Golden-Haired Apes of the Ikkinasti Jungle" WEDNESDAY, MARCH 6 NANCY POYDAR - A former 6th grade teacher, as well as author and Illustrator of: "Bus Driver", "Zip, Zip...Homework," "First Day Hooray," and "Last Day Hooray," as well as eleven other titles, and illustrator of over 23 other books MARTY KELLEY - author of funny picture books, including the Messiest Desk, Rules, Summer Stinks ETHAN ZOHN - Survivor winner, professional soccer player, and author of The "Soccer World Series" SEAN BIXBY - Illustrator of The Uncrossable Canyon, and successful painter and sculptor, with sculptures featured in multiple shows at the Society of Illustrators THURSDAY, MARCH 7 HARRY BLISS - Renowned cartoonist, best-selling picture book artist and cover artist for The New Yorker ETHAN ZOHN (also featured Wednesday) NORAH DOOLEY - Storyteller and critically acclaimed children's author and educator NATHAN WALKER - illustrator, author and sculptor, with works including the Blue Crab in front of the Portsmouth Children's Museum and the Giant Ant that was in Portsmouth Center ANDREA LOVETT - a literacy through storytelling teacher for 15 years and professional storyteller for 20 MONDAY, MARCH 11 (recheduled from Friday) ANDREA LOVETT (also featured Thursday) TUESDAY, MARCH 12 (rescheduled from Friday) LELAND FAULKNER - Creator of the World of Wonder program, which evokes students' imaginations through shadow-theater, illusion, and characters from around the world WEDNESDAY, MARCH 13 (rescheduled from Friday) NORAH DOOLEY (also featured Thursday) FRIDAY, MARCH 15 (rescheduled from Friday) MARYANN COCCA-LEFFLER - Children book author and illustrator, with her "Princess K.I.M." series moving to the stage as a full-length musical