OGDEN -- If you had the chance to sit next to your favorite author during dinner, what would you ask?
Fifteen students from Two Rivers High School had that opportunity Tuesday. They took full advantage of the situation after being selected by their teacher to have dinner with the people behind the students' favorite books.
"I think this has pretty much changed their outlook on reading and books," said Cassie Cox, a teacher at Two Rivers, an alternative high school.
In an effort to get her students to learn the joys of reading, Cox began hand-selecting books she thought her students would enjoy. Those who read the most books by the five selected authors were rewarded with dinner, courtesy of The Olive Garden, and the chance to pick the brains of the authors.
"I want to ask just what their next book is going to be and why they chose the characters they did, if they came from real life," said 17-year-old senior Casey Stone. "Also, I want to ask if any of their stories are based on their life experiences."
Not only were the authors willing to answer those questions, but they said they really appreciated the event as a way to get students excited about reading.
"Literacy is so important now in every aspect of your life," said Jeff Scott Savage, one of the five authors who came to meet the students. "Whether it's health, whether it's staying out of trouble, whether it's a job you can get, so if you can get kids excited it's great. If you can get them to develop a love of reading, it's something that can affect their whole lives."
The authors -- including Sara Zarr, Wendy Toliver, Marion Jensen and Sydney Salter -- who excitedly agreed to participate in the evening, not only received gift certificates from The Olive Garden, but had another reason to smile. They were just as excited to meet their fans as the students were to meet the authors.
"It's great, because you spend so much of your time, as an author, by yourself, just writing alone in your world," Savage said. "So it's actually fun to be sitting here with students who are saying, 'Now when this happened, it was so cool, how did you come up with that?' It's like you've been doing a play for six months all by yourself and finally you get an audience."
Seventeen-year-old Josh Widdison, a senior at Two Rivers, said he did not like reading before Cox started this challenge.
"Oh no, not like this," Widdison said. "I just couldn't find the right book. Now I found the right one and it sparked my inspiration to read."
While this was the first time that Widdison met Savage, his favorite author, face-to-face, the two had talked prior to Tuesday. Widdison sent Savage an e-mail that Savage received while at an author event, so he proudly showed the e-mail to his writing friends. Savage answered with a phone call to Widdison at school.
When Widdison answered the phone, he said he couldn't believe who was on the other end.
"I was like, really?" Widdison said. "Then I went off on him and said, 'I love your books and it was an inspiration to me to keep reading.'aa"
That, Cox said, was the goal. She wants her students to keep reading and is happy that with a little encouragement, so many have found satisfaction in sitting down and relaxing with a book.
"Most never liked reading before this school year, and this has made all the difference."