By Callum McKinney
The Daily Times
SALISBURY, MD---Eucalyptus trees scattered sunlight over a group of Salisbury University students on the deck of children's book author Prue Mason's hillside home overlooking the Glass Mountains of
The elementary education students were visiting the country's aptly named Sunshine Coast as part of award-winning professors Ernie Bond and Patricia Dean's summer class on international children's literature. During the course of the trip, the students met dozens of established and up-and-coming authors and illustrators at schools, homes and hotels.
Before the Australian coast, the students visited New Zealand, where they read to children at a Maori tribal school and were asked questions about the education system in the United States.
"Through these trips, they have face-to-face interaction with the writers, get to see the illustrators' studios and have the international experience at the same time," Bond said.
A recipient of the Maryland Regent's Award for Teaching Excellence, Bond also supervises international teaching candidates in New Zealand. One SU student on this year's trip, Bethany Jeffries, is staying to intern at a public school in Auckland.
Other students on the trip had never left the Eastern Shore, Bond said. For two, their first time flying was the 21-hour flight from Baltimore-Washington International Airport to Sydney, Australia, via Los Angeles.
Bond and Dean agreed the experience of traveling created a sense of wonder in the students. This, they said, placed their perspective closer to the world of a child. It is the ability to occupy that mental space the professors say is the common ground for good children's book authors.
"There's an especially large number of children's writers and illustrators in Australia and New Zealand," Bond said, explaining their chosen destination. "If they were reading the same books here, they wouldn't get the same experience, the same context. Visiting the authors at their homes brings the stories to life."
After intimate meetings, such as cooking dinner with Mason and chatting with authors on her deck, the professors say students showed a growing confidence and inspiration for their future work in the classroom. While dining with Mason, students learned her idea for her first book, Camel Rider, came to her in a dream. Her latest, Destination Abudai, also drew on her experience living in Dubai as she writes of dangerous family politics complicated by cultural misunderstandings.
Dean said the SU students' interaction with international books, authors and students will help prepare them for their classrooms as more foreign students enter U.S. public schools each year.
"In the future, I could possibly ask one of the authors to Skype and then my class would have a deeper understanding of the stories told and want to read more from the author," said Brittany Zsebedics, referring to a web-based communication tool. "From this trip, everyone gained lasting connections from all over the world. Another reason students should experience this trip is to see different ways classrooms work."
Reprinted with permission from The Daily Times