VALPARAISO — Flint Lake Elementary School second-graders participated in social media in a big way Thursday when they had an opportunity to Skype with a favorite children's author.

The children talked to Lauren Tarshis, famous for the children's book series, "I Survived." Tarshis talked to the children about how she became an author, the importance of research and she offered advice to the youngsters.

Second-grade teacher Erin Blumenthal said it all began in November when she was considering a writing project. She said she set it aside when students didn't express a lot of interest in the prospect of writing to different authors.

"Then, one of my students, Dionne, was the first one to do it," Blumenthal said. "I told her in advance we may not hear back but we had a response in two weeks. The children were really excited then. Now, everyone wanted to write an author. We stopped what we were doing that very afternoon, and all of the children sat down to write letters to their favorite authors."

Second-grader Dionne Ralph said she was thrilled to hear back from author Nick Bruel, famous for writing the "Bad Kitty" series. Dionne said she's got all of Tarshis' Survivor series at home.

"It's been pretty exciting talking to them," Dionne said. "I want to be a writer when I grow up. I've already written seven books. I want to write children's books. I'm working on a chapter book right now, but it might be rated PG because there's a little bit of violence in it."

After a few technical difficulties adjusting to Skype, the students were connected and flooded Tarshis with questions about how she became a writer, what inspires her and how long it takes her to write a book.

Tarshis told students her father was a writer, but she never expected to do that. She said she didn't start writing until she was 30.

"I learned how to write, because I practiced and practiced," she said. "I had to write a bunch of bad books first."

"When writing, think about the audience you're writing for and the kind of story you want to tell," Tarshis told students. She said when she's working on a historical book she does lots of research in advance.

Tarshis told the students she knows other authors who have taken 14 years to write a book. She said her contract calls for each of her books to be completed in six months.

"It's great being able to talk to you and see you. Not every author gets a chance to do that," she said. encouraging students to continue writing and reading.

Blumenthal said she used social media like Twitter to find the accounts for different authors and eventually found the addresses to write to them. The children have written to 22 authors and have heard back from 14 of them.

The class is still holding out hope they will hear from British novelist J.K. Rowling, famous for the Harry Potter series.

Blumenthal said she wants students to learn two things from the project: first that what they think matters and second, that it's important not to give up on your dreams.

Second-grader Brock Storey said he also wants to be an author. He was one of the students who wrote to Tarshis and thought it was "super cool" to talk to her face to face.

"We've been counting down the days until we could see her," he said.

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Education reporter

Carmen is an award-winning journalist who has worked at The Times newspaper for 20 years. Before that she also had stints at The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., The Post-Tribune and The News Dispatch in Michigan City.