Edward Irving Wortis, better known by his pen name Avi, spoke to a packed room of students at Strawberry Park Elementary School on Friday about his work as a children's author. Wortis has written more than 70 books for young readers including "The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle" and "Nothing But the Truth," which both won the Newbery Honor, and "Crispin:  The Cross of the Lead," which was awarded the Newbery Medal.

Photo by John F. Russell

Edward Irving Wortis, better known by his pen name Avi, spoke to a packed room of students at Strawberry Park Elementary School on Friday about his work as a children's author. Wortis has written more than 70 books for young readers including "The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle" and "Nothing But the Truth," which both won the Newbery Honor, and "Crispin: The Cross of the Lead," which was awarded the Newbery Medal.

Children's writing icon visits Strawberry Park

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— When Edward Irving Wortis began speaking in front of about 200 students at Strawberry Park Elementary School, very few students probably knew his real name. But when it comes to his books, they can almost recite them by heart.

Wortis, better known as Avi, has been writing children's books for more than 50 years and has published more than 70 books in that time.

When Avi revealed his real name Friday during one of his three appearances in Steamboat Springs, the third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students roared with applause.

Avi, originally from New York City, also told the students that he is a regular visitor to Steamboat Springs.

"In many respects, this is my home," Avi said.

Avi said he and his wife have a home in Denver and when his son, one of six children, was becoming an avid skier, the family would regularly visit Steamboat on the weekends.

The family had a "tiny, two-room house" in the Strawberry Park area when they began visiting 10 years ago, and they eventually bought a house near Hahn's Peak, where he has spent the past week writing a new book.

Avi told the students that he finished a first draft of the book during the week, but that's only the start of the process.

Avi was invited to Steamboat Springs by Epilogue Book Co. and visited with students at Steamboat Springs High School, Strawberry Park Elementary and at the bookstore later in the day. During the talks, he entertained questions from students and gave them pointers on what makes a good writer.

"Writing is very hard for me," he said. "I have to rewrite the books a lot, about 60 or 70 times. That's a key part of writing."

Epilogue owner Erica Fogue said store staff invited Avi through a handwritten letter, and once the word got out he would be visiting, students and teachers became excited.

"He's always been the most popular kids book author," Fogue said.

Epilogue manager Josh Karzen said Avi is "an icon" in children's literature.

"He has major, what would be called brand recognition," he said. "Kids of a younger generation might view him like a Judy Blume, where everyone in school knows him."

Signs of Steamboat

Steamboat students can see a reflection of their city in several of Avi's books.

Steamboat has been used as a setting or inspiration for several of his works, including "The Secret School," from 2001; "Perloo the Bold," from 1998; and "The Good Dog," from 2001.

Avi said "The Good Dog," which is told from a dog's perspective, was the result of moving to the Steamboat area.

"Sometimes, it seemed like there were more dogs than people in Steamboat Springs," he told the students.

Avi's next book, "Hard Gold," will be released in about two weeks, and while it is not based in Steamboat, he said he was inspired to pan for gold after writing about the experience.

To do that, he took a pan up into the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area, where he picked flecks of gold out of the sand.

Avi, now 70 years old, said he has no plans for retiring.

"I have too many kids," he said.

Instead, he will continue to travel to bookstores and schools for the foreseeable future. He plans to visit Vail, Denver and Colorado Springs in the coming months, he said.

He said that despite the busy schedule, being around children in those places helps him with his writing.

"It's inspiring to me to meet my readers. They are excited about what I do. It's a powerful motivator," he said. "It helps me set the focus and reminds me what I should be doing."

- To reach Zach Fridell, call 871-4208

or e-mail zfridell@steamboatpilot.com

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