Author visit to Shanghai American School

Secrets of the Trade 创作秘密

(Written by Mette Vanderheide)

2:36Earth is Best – S. Swinburne来自SAS上海美国学校

“Keep your eyes open and really look,” Steve Swinburne, the visiting author, tells our elementary school students. That’s his trade secret—how he comes up with the stories for his non-fiction books about animals. Next up, he shows a slide with a picture of his house. It’s covered in snow. He asks the first grade students “What do you see?” They are surprisingly quick to spot a beautiful white owl, blended in amongst the snow-capped trees. That’s when he lets them in on another one of his ‘trade secrets’: in order to be a successful writer, he has to use all five senses, which help him remain in tune with the natural world. That means he has to put his phone and computer down and focus on what is happening around him—outside.

“睁大眼睛看世界。”是访问作家史蒂夫·斯温伯恩(Steve Swinburne)赠予我校小学生的一句箴言,这也是他动物纪实故事书的创作秘密。接着,他向学生们展示了他的住所照片,图中可见房屋上覆盖着一层积雪,这时他转向一年级小学生:“你们都看到了什么?”孩子们出人意料地马上发现了与树顶的积雪融为一体的一只美丽白色猫头鹰,紧接着他又分享了另一个“创作秘密”:若想成为一名成功的作家,就必须充分利用五官感受世界,这一方法有利于他适应大自然,但这也就意味着他必须放下手机和电脑,专注于周围发生的事情——外界的一切。

At Shanghai American School, our librarians work year round to not only add to and retain the largest English library in China, but also make sure we bring in some of the most creative authors to talk to and work with our students. Kimbra Power, one of our librarians, told us that our librarians “are approached on a weekly basis by authors and illustrators from all over the world who want to come to SAS.” But they don’t just accept anyone who wants to come to our school.

“Our authors need to be creative and clever, not just good writers or illustrators. Some authors with best selling books are not naturally charismatic and will not be able to work with our students. Other authors may have written and published some lesser known books, but know how to present with incredible enthusiasm, stories, and research advice.” The most important trait about the visiting authors is not awards or being on a bestseller’s list (though many of the authors we bring in have these accolades), but that they can provide a valuable and unique example to our students.

According to Mrs. Power, having a wide variety of visiting authors is an “opportunity of a lifetime” for all of our students as it allows our community to connect with people from varied walks of life, with diverse backgrounds and stories to tell.




One of these diverse and enthusiastic authors, Mr. Swinburne, was recently working with our elementary school students. Mr. Swinburne told us that he “loves to talk with children about research and writing. I give them practical advice. ‘Hook the reader! Get it [your story] down and then fix it up!’ Those practical things are important. But I also would like to have them learn that they too can follow their dreams. I followed my dreams, even though I thought I could never earn a living as an author. I think it’s important to do what you love.”

Mr. Swinburne had many jobs before he finally was able to become a full time author. He drove trucks, delivered pizzas, was in a rock band, and even had a stint as a boat captain. But his passion for writing was with him throughout it all. He kept a journal of his journey and discoveries along the way, including all that he was seeing and learning about animals.



Our elementary students may not have the same opportunities to observe sea turtles, crocodiles, and the other amazing animals that Mr. Swinburne writes about so well, especially in such a large city that has more cement than grass. So how can they come up with great stories? According to Mr. Swinburne they can write excellent stories right here in Shanghai, they just have to grasp the “adventure in your heart,” turn it into an “adventure in your head,” and then write it down in their journal. The most important thing, he tells them, is for them to tell their own story. “Everyone has a story, it could be about basketball or a birthday party. Or about a friend. Believe in your own story, believe in yourself.”


Not all of our students will become authors or illustrators, but it is important for them to be able to learn from and work alongside these incredible professionals. They are not just teaching them about how to write or draw, but how it is possible to be lifelong learners, to act with integrity and compassion in this world, and that they can courageously live out their dreams.

All of our visiting artists (writers, illustrators, mosaic artists, dancers, actors, etc.) live out our mission statement on a daily basis and show our students that the world is truly their oyster—they just need to stop and focus on their dreams and then go out and make it a reality.





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2 responses to “Author visit to Shanghai American School

  1. Steve, your advice to these young students is treasured advice to old students like me as well! What a great view of an rich experience for you and these Shanghai students.

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