Best-selling author Chris Grabenstein visits students in Marion County

“I need three volunteers who aren’t afraid to make a fool of themselves in public,” author Chris Grabenstein announced on stage at the Palace Theater on Thursday to a packed house of students in grades three to five at the Marion county.

With a silly sense of humor, amusing voices and the personality of the comedian he once was, the New York Times bestselling author had the kids laughing in their seats throughout his presentation, absorbing his writing advice of “show, don’t tell” and “don’t be boring” through their laughter.

Chris Grabenstein invited three students from each presentation on stage with him to help illustrate the power of strong verbs as he marched and strutted across the stage.

A graduate of the University of Tennessee in communications, Grabenstein moved to New York with seven suitcases of typewriters and $1,000 to land a writing job in hopes of becoming a comedian. He then spent many years working in advertising before experiencing a personal tragedy and realizing that life is short: he wanted to be a writer.

“Luckily I had saved up enough money to be able to quit. That’s my advice to all young people. Save some money,” he joked.

After initially writing books for adults that his “two dozen” nieces and nephews shouldn’t read because of the adult content, he adapted a manuscript he had previously written into a book aimed at a younger audience and it was picked up by Random House.

His career as a bestselling children’s author took off from there and he eventually penned his hit series “Mr. Lemoncello.”

“That’s what I found out that I’m really supposed to do is write for kids,” he said.

A regular line at the Marion Public Library formed of students and their families to meet New York Times bestselling author Chris Grabenstein on Thursday.

Grabenstein’s spring visit to Marion was originally scheduled for 2020, and 2,350 copies of his book “Shine!” which he wrote with his wife JJ were distributed to third- through fifth-grade students in county districts just before the event was canceled due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Made possible by a grant from the Marion Community Foundation, the long-awaited visit finally took place on Thursday, and the author addressed two groups of Marion County students from the Palace Theater Stage during his first speech before children over 2 years old.

He then headed to the Marion Public Library for a dedication event at 5 p.m.

Marion Public Library communications manager Diane Watson was thrilled with the turnout for the book signing, seeing so many students and families in attendance that library staff had to line up through the piles of books in the children’s section in order to manage the crowd.

Watson was concerned that children who received a book through the grant in 2020 would not be able to locate their books for the signing event, but was relieved to see students turn up one after another with books in hand.

One such student, James Skaggs, a fifth grader from River Valley Heritage Elementary, was the first student Watson saw arrive at the library. He and his classmate, Chase Fabian, were among the first students to meet Grabenstein, pointing out their teacher, Elizabeth Sawzin, who was behind them in line.

“He’s very popular and I’ve never met anyone as popular as him, so I’m really excited to see someone so popular, fascinating, interesting,” Skaggs said.

Chase Fabian (left) and James Skaggs (right) are fifth graders at River Valley's Heritage Elementary.  They had been waiting to meet Grabenstein since they were in third grade before the pandemic began.

Sawzin said the kids had a great time during Grabenstein’s presentation earlier today and she was glad they finally got to see him in person.

“It’s nice to be back to some normalcy here. My fifth graders were supposed to go when they were in third grade so it was good for them to have the experience after all,” he said. she declared.

Each student took a photo with Grabenstein at the book signing event, receiving personalized attention from the author, who asked students for their story ideas and offered advice or answers to their questions about his life or his career.

One of the last students to meet Grabenstein asked him if it was moving to write a book.

Although often a comedian, Chris Grabenstein describes to a student how writing a book can often be a moving experience.

“Yes, sometimes I cry,” he replied. “You have to go through a dark night for the sun that comes after.”

His advice for her? Keep reading.

“It teaches empathy better than anything else,” he said. “You can be someone else for a few hours. You kinda walk in their place.”

Story by: Sophia Veneziano (740) 564 – 5243 | [email protected]

Lola R. McClure