Fifth grade scholars fresh from reading All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook as part of their summer assignment sat down to interview the author, Leslie Connor, via Skype. Mrs. Connor cheerfully answered questions about the story and her inspiration while doling some advice for aspiring writers.
“As a child I wrote a lot,” she told students. “I wrote all the time, even when I wasn’t supposed to -- like in math class. I later went to art school and studied to be a children’s book illustrator. Figuring out I wanted to be a writer instead of an illustrator came as a surprise after I took an adult education class in writing when I was about to turn 40.”
She continued with some encouragement for her young audience: “School is a place to gain a lot of tools and to discover your passions. Never underestimate the skills you’re picking up that will be valuable to you someday.”
Mrs. Connor also shared her timeline for getting a book published. “The first draft takes about one year,” she confided. “I’m not the fastest writer around, and I like to get it close to ready before I submit to my editor. I don’t like to do a lot of back and forth with the editor so I’ll only send the manuscript when it’s pretty clean.”
Year two involves revisions with the editor while the publishing house gets the cover designed, hires an illustrator and creates a marketing plan to sell the book. Mrs. Connor sends the book to other authors asking them to read it and provide a few glowing words of recommendation. “Then advance copies are sent to reviewers to get media buzz going,” she shared. “Usually by then I’ve started another book.”
According to her website, All Rise is the story of 11-year-old Perry, a boy whose mother is imprisoned in a correctional facility. Stuck in foster care, Perry begins to question the details of his mother’s crime and resolves to uncover her true story. In the novel, Mrs. Connor explores themes of forgiveness and letting go of fears.
Responding to a question by Brady Dawson, Mrs. Connor revealed her inspiration for the book: “I read an article in the New York Times about a woman who was incarcerated for life and whose 11-month-old daughter was raised by grandparents. Kids who are separated from their parents because of prison was the seed idea. I did a lot of research into minimum security prisons and the kinds of mistakes people make that get them sent there.”
To prepare for their virtual visit, students learned about asking open-ended questions and brainstormed some questions they would like to ask Mrs. Connor. As a follow-up, they will write letters to her, sharing their thoughts about the book, asking additional questions if they like, and thanking her for donating her time. Some might also pitch their ideas for a sequel to All Rise!
Graland Country Day School is a private school in Denver, Colorado, serving students in preschool, kindergarten, elementary, and middle school. Founded in Denver in 1924, Graland incorporates a rich, experiential learning approach in a traditional classroom setting, emphasizing the development of globally and socially conscious leaders who excel academically.