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Children's book authors unleash Mr. Lemur
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Children's book authors unleash Mr. Lemur

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Westridge Elementary School in Ballwin got some "lemur-rific" visitors on March 6 to help the kids ramp up their reading.

As one of various Rockwood District schools celebrating Rockwood Reading Week, Westridge welcomed Hans and Jen Hartvickson, the authors and illustrators of three Mister Lemur books that offer short stories in rhyming verse.

In the gym, the couple read from their latest book, "It Will Take A Lot of Us to Lift a Hippopotamus," talked to the 447 students about what makes a good story and signed autographs.

The school's reading teacher, Kitty Copple, invited the authors to the assembly, but fourth-grader Kenedi Brown, 10, took care of publicizing the visit.

Kenedi came up with questions and interviewed Jen Hartvickson by email before the authors arrived, said Sarah Majino, Kenedi's fourth-grade teacher. Kenedi then wrote a story about the authors for the Westridge Times school newspaper.

"It was fun interviewing her because I really like the Mister Lemur books; they're so funny," Kenedi said.

"I read the first one, 'Train of Thought,' last year," she said. "If Mister Lemur was real, I'd like to have him as a pet because he's so friendly. So it's very exciting to have the authors come here."

Kenedi likes reading because "it takes me on journeys with my imagination."

She introduced the Hartvicksons at the assembly and closed out the visit, which was their second to Westridge.

"I came by myself last year to talk about the four steps toward writing a book, which are writing, illustrating, editing and printing," said Jen Hartvickson, of San Francisco.

This year, the couple talked to the kids, using the Hippopotamus plot, about the five characteristics of a good story - setting, characters, a problem, the problem's resolution and a moral. In this case, that you can do anything working as a team.

Jen Hartvickson brings a background in education to the team. She is a former executive with Kaplan University and has worked for an interactive media and design firm. Hans is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business. He has worked in the financial services field, including an investment bank and a hedge fund.

They wrote their first book, "Mister Lemur's Train of Thought" after returning from a trip to Madagascar, which is well-known for its lemurs. They self-published the book and it won a children's poetry award. After that, it caught the attention of parents and educators all across the country.

Some of the Westridge kids got a chance to quiz the authors.

Carrie Lunte, a third-grader, wondered what inspired the couple to become authors. Jen Hartvickson told her the couple enjoyed writing, working as a team and being creative.

"I really enjoyed reading their books because of the characters," Carrie said.

Tyler Yu, also a third-grader, asked about when new Mister Lemur books would be coming out, and Hans Harvickson said the couple is working on a few more books which should be out starting later this year.

"I liked the hippopotamus story because it was funny and it had a good moral about working as a team," Tyler said. 

The authors also visited Rockwood's Wild Horse Elementary School March 6 and Ellisville Elementary School March 7.

"Rockwood has really been supportive of reading, empowering their kids to be leaders," Jen Hartvickson said.

Westridge Principal Katherine Kimsey said students there also participated in other Reading Week activities such as daily "drop everything and read" time, wearing Dr. Seuss related clothes, and wearing clothes with words on them.

Westridge and all Rockwood schools took part Friday in Missouri Read-in Day activities.

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