Friday's gathering of students in the media center at Strawberry Park Elementary School came with a warning.
"Please be careful," school media specialist Sherry Holland told the dozens of eager second-graders seated on the carpeted floor of a library backroom. "You're going to have a tendency to want to laugh. It's OK."
And laugh they did.
For 45 minutes the students sat captivated by author Mark Ludy, who was making his final stop as part of a three-day visit to Routt County elementary schools.
With a booming voice, silly faces, animated body gestures and an array of humorous sound effects, Ludy, a Windsor native, took the children on a ride that included a brief stop in Bulgaria and inside his mind, the mind of a well-known author and illustrator.
Ludy, whose works include "The Farmer," "The Grump" and "When I Was a Boy ... I Dreamed," calls himself a passionate communicator who hopes his visits with children inspire them to pursue the arts and literacy -- or whatever their dreams may be.
"My heartbeat is encouraging people," Ludy said. "And I think the arts and literacy are things that need to be encouraged."
A kid at heart, Ludy said he loves traveling to schools, meeting with children and making them laugh.
"Laughter opens up doors," he said. "My passion is communicating, be it through writing, speaking, drawing or whatever medium. "
In addition to the slapstick comedy he brings to his visits, Ludy incorporates a message that all children are "miracles" who should follow their dreams.
"What I want to encourage you to do is to do what you love, whatever it might be," Ludy told Strawberry Park students.
But, knowing his audience, Ludy touches on the serious for just a moment before shifting back to the more crowd-pleasing role of entertainer and role model. He took illustration requests from eager students, drawing sharks, dragons and cheetahs on large sheets of paper that he signed and presented to individual children.
After the presentation, which he repeated five times throughout the day for each of the school's grade levels, Ludy hung around to draw pictures on the hands of adoring readers.
"These are the people I do it for," he said as he looked at the line of children waiting to meet him.
Author visits such as Ludy's play an important role in the educational process, teachers said.
"I think visiting authors help kids to see themselves as writers and illustrators," second-grade teacher Tracey Tyson said. "It personalizes the whole reading and writing experience."
The visits often have lasting effects in the classroom, too, Tyson said.
"It gets them real excited about writing."
In addition to Strawberry Park, Ludy also visited Hayden Valley Elementary School and Soda Creek Elementary School during the week. He appeared at Epilogue Book Co. on Friday night to meet fans and sign autographs.
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