Letters from Jones Dairy Elementary School

Posted on March 2, 2010 (Subscribe to Blog)

This week I received a nice thick package from Brian Clopper, a fifth grade teacher at Jones Dairy Elementary School in Wake Forest, North Carolina. Since he's a teacher, and this post is about his 11-year-old students, I'll refer to him as Mr. Clopper! Anyway, Mr. Clopper has been reading Island of Fog to his class, and the package he sent contained twenty letters (handwritten in pencil) from his students, along with various sketches of creatures from the book.

I've had plenty of reviews about the book, some from middle graders and teens, and many from older readers, but this package of letters from a class of 11-year-olds is by far the best feedback I've had to date. The general consensus is that there's one particular scene that drags a little, but I also know which other scenes are hot favorites, and which creatures are the most popular. One classmate suggested that a scene near the end (involving the parents) was "gruesome," although another liked the way it played out. Miss Simone needs to be nicer and sweeter to the children, and there needs to be more action with the manticore. Favorite characters include Hal, Abigail and Robbie, while Thomas is the creepiest.

But it's best to let you read the words of the fifth graders. I've put together a page containing all the letters, faithfully reproduced without changing anything except where I needed to remove a name. The drawings are brilliant, and I've included these too. Be warned, though – for those who haven't read the book, you might want to look at these letters with one eye closed and the other squinted to avoid spoilers. See the link at the foot of this post. I'll also be writing directly to the class to answer their questions. I wish I could go visit, but it's an eight hour journey!

Brian Clopper BooksAs for Mr. Brian Clopper, he's not just a teacher but a writer as well. He kindly sent me a couple of his own self-published works, one being a short Birthday Comic Book Card featuring Marvin the Dragon, and the other a compact 100-page short novel entitled Graham the Gargoyle, complete with superb illustrations by Brian himself – a man of many talents!

Oddly enough, when I opened the package and the contents fell out, the title Graham the Gargoyle struck me as familiar. For a second I thought Piers Anthony had written about such a character. Then Brian mentioned that he'd been a fan of Piers Anthony while growing up, and when he wrote Graham the Gargoyle he sent the book to Piers in the hope that the author would review it. He did, and favorably so, saying:

"[Graham the Gargoyle is] for young readers, as the little gargoyle struggles through family, school, and tormenting by the local bully to finally win through. I recommend this for ten year olds, who will relate." (April 2001 newsletter)

This was back in 2001, so I'm not sure why I remember the title. Maybe I just think I do. But anyway, Brian has been visiting Piers Anthony's website every month ever since, and this is how he came across my novel, Island of Fog – because of Piers' review in his July 2009 newsletter. Brian was curious and bought my book via Amazon, and liked it enough that he wanted to read it to his class. He's currently reading Labyrinth of Fire at home and plans to read that to the class as well. He clearly has great taste! :-)

Brian is also writing a new novel about a character named Irving Wishbutton. I love the concept of this, although I'd better not repeat it here for fear of someone else borrowing the idea. The manuscript is written, and Brian plans to start submitting to agents in April. I've read the portion he sent me, and am inspired. I had already planned to write something new after the third "Fog" book, but haven't quite figured out what yet – but it will be good to start with a clean slate and do something new. (I do plan to write more "Fog" books as well, though, probably in 2011.)

It's been a great week. Selling books is one thing, but having a copy read to an enthralled class... well, it's a far nicer feeling than earning a few bucks here and there!

Ready to read the letters? Okay, let's go: Letters from Jones Dairy Elementary School

Comment by JANA on Tuesday, March 2, 2010...

Awesome! I love all the pictures the kids drew! Thanks for putting those up! I'm all smiles right now! You must be, too! :)



Comment by JULIE@OWLSDENE on Wednesday, March 3, 2010...

What lovely letters from the class of children. For them to take the time and effort to write I think is so good of them all, and to send their own version of pictures too. You must be more than pleased, Keith. Now you know how Enid Blyton felt! I know you say you'd love to visit but it's an 8 hours journey. If that was me, I'd make that journey. Those children would be overwhelmed and you'd really make their day. Who knows, if they knew you were coming the teacher may well organize a local film crew for publicity. You could always make it a sort of two/three day break with your family. Take a supply of the second book, and a pen to autograph the ones you sell to the children. It's all do able, my friend. Best wishes Julie.

Comment by ANITA on Wednesday, March 3, 2010...

What a lovely lot of letters and illustrations. It's great to see them, Keith. You must be chuffed to bits!

Comment by KEITH ROBINSON on Wednesday, March 3, 2010...

Jana, Julie and Anita — yes, I'm all smiles, more than pleased, and chuffed to bits! All those things and more. It's much better than just selling a bunch. Funny thing is, as I was writing more of Book 3 last night, I found myself thinking, "Now, what would those kids at Jones Dairy Elementary think of this scene...?" Hehe.

Comment by VANESSA ROBINSON on Wednesday, March 3, 2010...

I can confirm that Keith was thrilled when the package came as was I! We both stood in the kitchen engrossed in the letters, completely ignoring our own child's begging to change channels for her. I loved the drawings and also appreciate that Mr Clopper has clearly attempted to do more than merely entertain his class. The criticisms in the letters show that his class discussed technique, plot and grammar. Well done Mr Clopper!

Comment by MING on Thursday, March 4, 2010...

I love elementary school kids! :-) Surely an eight hour drive is not too long for such an awesome pack of children?

Comment by ANONYMOUS on Saturday, March 6, 2010...

hello Mr.Robinson i am one of the students from Mr.Cloppers class that sent you the letter and picture of the manticore on the blue paper and i know we would all be thrilled if you and your familie would take the time to come down and visit us from jones dairy.

Comment by KEITH ROBINSON on Saturday, March 6, 2010...

Hello, "anonymous student" — don't worry, I know which one you are, and the manticore picture is great! I will definitely stop by if we head up that way; maybe we'll make a short vacation of it. :-)

Comment by ANONYMOUS on Saturday, March 13, 2010...

Hi Mr. Robinson! I am a student form Jones Dairy and my picture was Emily in her Naga form and Thomas the Manticore on some yellow paper. I wrote a book on cruising, and I wondered if you like me to send it to you. Well anyway, I am about mid way through your book and I love it. I can't wait until Mountain of Whispers comes out. Well, I have to go.

Comment by ANONYMOUS on Sunday, June 20, 2010...

hi i am a student in mr c's class its so cool that we have gotten all this feed back thanks a lot! also we LOVE the second book ps my picture is the one with fenton an the fog hole

Comment by ANONYMOUS on Tuesday, April 29, 2014...

Hi! I actually went to Jones Dairy for 1st-4th grade, but now I go to a new school. But when I was younger, I really wanted to be in Mr. Clopper's class. I read your post and I thought it was really nice. Now, I want to read your books, and I'll be sure to try and find them soon. Also, I want to be a writer when I grow up. Thanks for all you do!

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