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Published: Saturday, 7/25/2009

Poetry fuels ex-teacher's punctuation book

BY FLORENCE DETHY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Persistence has paid off for Elsa Knight Bruno.

This week, the Sylvania resident's first book, Punctuation Celebration, hit stores and it is already generating rave reviews from brand-name retailers and local teachers alike.

Sitting comfortably at her writing desk, blue eyes sparkling, the 72-year-old Ms. Bruno said she was blown away when she learned that Barnes & Noble had purchased 3,500 copies of Punctuation Celebration for the back-to-school season.

Through a series of 14 poems in which punctuation marks play active roles, Ms. Bruno teaches the merits and uses of each punctuation mark.

The book is available on Amazon.com, and the Web site Midwest Book Review gave the rhythmic and spirited work five out of five stars and called it a "fun way of learning punctuation."

Acclaim also came from the School Library Journal, which hailed Ms. Bruno's writing as "clear and lively throughout" and lauded the "bright collages of children of various ethnicities engaged in diverse activities" that complement the text.

 Punctuation Celebration  uses poetry to illustrate accepted practices for using punctuation in the written word. Punctuation Celebration uses poetry to illustrate accepted practices for using punctuation in the written word.
THE BLADE/DAVE ZAPOTOSKY Enlarge | Buy This Photo

But for the retired kindergarten teacher, while the book's publication has been exciting, it also has been a tremendous relief.

The book, she said, was supposed to have been published years ago, but was delayed over and over again.

"I've been waiting and I've been waiting," Ms. Bruno said. "I was almost just numb to the point that I thought, 'Is this really going to happen or not?' "

At last it has, and her friends and former colleagues say they are not surprised in the least that she finally achieved her dream.

"She loved the process of teaching, reading, and always wanted to write a book," said Toni Gerber, who is the principal at Central Elementary, where Ms. Bruno taught kindergarten for 25 years.

Ms. Gerber said Ms. Bruno used rhyme when she taught and was ahead of her time.

"The teaching of reading and the lyrical sounds - she was a master at that," Ms. Gerber said.

But while Ms. Bruno may have had dreams of writing and a knack for rhyme as a teacher, it was not until she retired that she became a disciplined writer and even then, she said she did not pursue poetry until she had written, as she put it, "some really dreadful stories."

"And I finally thought, well, this [poetry] is easy for me. I'll do all my stuff that I've learned teaching," she said. "And it just clicked."

That is not to say it is not hard work. It requires discipline, Ms. Bruno said.

"Even though I stopped teaching, I don't sit around in a bathrobe," she said. "If I just laid around all day, I never would have done this."

Rather each morning, Ms. Bruno goes into her writing room and works for a couple of hours. Then, after doing her duties around the house, she returns and works for an additional hour or two, sometimes even longer, depending on how things go, she said.

All that work has paid off, said Marcia Kaplan, who has known Ms. Bruno for at least 25 years.

"I am just so proud of her," she said.

"She's just been plugging away for years."

Now, local elementary school teachers are extremely interested in having Punctuation Celebration in their classrooms come fall, said Ms. Kaplan, who owns the children's bookstore A Whale of a Tale and has organized a book signing for Ms. Bruno.

She estimated that she has shown the book to at least 50 local elementary school teachers.

"They are thrilled with the poetry in it and what it offers to the children because it teaches how to punctuate," Ms. Kaplan said.

And for Ms. Bruno's friends, the achievement is not only well-deserved but a source of inspiration for teachers everywhere.

"I think all of us as teachers should keep having those dreams and those goals, and for her to have reached [hers], that's very exciting," Ms. Gerber said.

Ms. Bruno will have a book signing today from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Chandler Cafe, 5648 North Main Street, Sylvania.

Punctuation Celebration is published by Henry Holt and Company and illustrated by Jenny Whitehead.

Contact Florence Dethy at:

fdethy@theblade.com

or 419-724-6064.



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