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Author Michael Dahl encourages kids to use imagination

Author Michael Dahl visited Lincoln Elementary Wednesday and encouraged students to use their imagination by joining him in a recreation of his horror story, "Cave of the Bookworms." Brandon L. Summers / The Dickinson Press 1 / 2
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Children's author Michael Dahl visited Dickinson elementary schools this week, encouraging children to use their imaginations.

Dahl writes preschool-level superhero books such as "Bedtime for Batman" and "Be a Star, Wonder Woman," as well as middle-grade level horror and mystery titles.

"The cool thing about being a writer is, you get to decide what to write about," Dahl said.

Dahl has been writing since he was a child, already knowing by fifth grade he wanted to be an author, he told Lincoln Elementary students Wednesday, March 7.

Growing up, Dahl read "The Hobbit," Encyclopedia Brown and Sherlock Holmes adventures, many comic books, and the mysteries of Agatha Christie.

The key to being a writer, Dahl said, is imagination.

"Imagination is a mental muscle," he said. "The more you use it, the stronger you become."

He added, "I used my imagination muscles so often, maybe then that's why I got into a career where I use my imagination."

Dahl's works are illustrated, he explained, answering which comes first, words or pictures?

"You have to start with the story," he said. "But sometimes a story can begin with a picture in your head."

Many of his ideas come from his own experiences, he explained. His horror story "Hocus Pocus Hotel" was inspired by a visit to a spooky hotel in San Antonio, Texas.

Dahl checked in and went to his room, where he had a supernatural experience.

"I heard a noise and I turned and there was an old man standing in the middle of my room," he said. "He was wearing a shabby brown suit and carrying an old-fashioned doctor's bag."

He went to the hotel desk to address the misunderstanding. It turned out, though, no one else had a key to the room. The old man was never there!

Dahl said he lives in a haunted house, built 100 years ago by a judge who lived there with his daughter, Helen.

The realtor told him, "Helen hasn't left the house. She likes the house."

One night, a silhouette, as black as ink, glided into the bedroom, and he knew this was Helen. The students cheered with their awe.

To foster a sense of imagination, Dahl shared riddles from his visual book, "White."

He encouraged students to answer such teasers as "White can chew; white can bite." (The answer is teeth.)

He showed students only a piece of an image first, to their confusion. As the image became more complete, they called out what they were seeing. A patch of yellow, for example, became Pokemon character Pikachu.

A mystery is told with clues, Dahl explained.

"All you need is one clue," he said. "Something obvious to tell us what it is."

Dahl told The Dickinson Press he enjoyed his visit to Dickinson, though not arriving in a blizzard.

"The weather almost stopped me. I drove in Sunday and got here at four in the morning," he said. "But it's been fun. The schools are great. The kids have asked very good questions. They've been fun audiences. I would probably come back. In the spring! I will come back in the spring."