On February 17 students were introduced to a local author who has been published more than 500 times and has written somewhere near double that in her lifetime so far. Dandi Daley Mackall currently lives near Cleveland, Ohio, but she took students back in time by describing parts of her modest upbringing in a small Missouri town where bareback horse riding, baseball, and storytelling provided elements that developed into a love of writing and set her on the path to becoming an author. She also shared that handwriting was difficult for her—she frequently wrote letters backwards, but she found her way around her struggles by telling stories instead.
Lower School students met with Mackall in small groups throughout the day to learn how to write better stories. She sparked their creativity by challenging them to reflect on “frozen moments” in life, times that one recalls an event in such detail that it seems frozen in time. She also challenged them to practice ways of expressing emotion through description and action rather than telling. Marian, a fourth grader, shared that her class recently wrote a story using frozen moments, like those used by the author.
One of the most compelling parts of the day was hearing the true story of how Dandi “Dan” Mackall wrote her way into becoming bat boy for the Kansas City A’s—well, almost. Being a girl in the years before Title IX presented heartache for Dandi, and as she tells it, “Sometimes failing at something turns you on to something you really ought to do.” The incredible story is captured in her children’s book “A Girl Named Dan”.
In addition to telling her own stories, Mackall built an original story in real time with Middle School students. They started with developing a character, inspiring the reader to empathize with the character, and then “making the character’s life miserable” through challenges and problems to form the plot until the character has an epiphany that changes them. Her fun and easy to understand story structure makes writing more accessible and less intimidating for the student to create their own.
Students were able to ask her many questions about being an author. Mackall poignantly answered one middle schooler’s question “What motivated you to write?” explaining she believes “people want to hear stories,” and adding that writing can help you cope with life’s difficulties by “helping when tough things are in your head.”
Library Media Specialist Amanda Lim believes “we will see lots of new ideas coming from the students” as a result of the time they have shared together. Mackall is the author of a wide-ranging breadth of fascinating books for children, young adults, and adults on many topics. She has won several awards including the Helen Keating Ott Award and the Edgar Award. After hearing some of the compelling origins behind her books, many students and staff are already adding her titles to their reading lists. Her books are available on dandibooks.com.