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Ten Years
Author discovers children can relate to fictional account of G.I. tornadoes

By Molly Klocksin
Independent Staff Writer

When children's author Ivy Ruckman visits a school, the students nearly always insist that she read ''Night of the Twisters.''

''They won't let me get by without talking about it,'' Ruckman said during a telephone interview from her home in Salt Lake City. ''It's always the one book they want to hear about. They want to hear the stories.''

Ruckman based her 1984 book on the Grand Island tornadoes, borrowing from the experiences of her cousin, Florence Rozendal, 822 E. Bismark Road.

''Night of the Twisters'' begins with an Associated Press account of the storm and includes references to many places in and around Grand Island, including Dodge School, Mormon Island State Park and Fonner Park, plus the towns of Dannebrog, Phillips and St. Paul.

Athough the tornado action in ''Night of the Twisters'' is compelling, Ruckman believes that alone doesn't explain the popularity of the book. The children in the story are alone during the scary storm, and ''kids can relate to that,'' she said.

Ruckman estimates she meets about 30,000 schoolchildren per year, and they love the story and the slides she shows of the Grand Island tornadoes, she said.

''Night of the Twisters'' won Nebraska's Golden Sower Award and similar children's book awards in four other states: Minnesota, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Iowa.

''It means that in that state, practically every child in the state has read it,'' Ruckman said. ''It practically swept the tornado states.''

Teachers are using ''Night of the Twisters'' not only for reading aloud, but also for teaching about geography and weather, Ruckman said.

Despite the success of the book, Ruckman said she doesn't plan to write a sequel to ''Night of the Twisters.''

''I think kids would buy it, but it goes against my instincts,'' she said. ''It just seems to me it wouldn't work.''

Ruckman has written others books, including ''This Is Your Captain Speaking,'' a story about a 12-year old boy who befriends an old sea captain in a nursing home; ''No Way Out,'' a fictionalized account of flooding in the Zion Narrows, part of Zion National Park in Utah; and ''Who Invited the Undertaker?'' a story about a boy seeking his identity after losing his father.

But none of those books is as popular with the children as ''Night of the Twisters,'' which has even been translated into Japanese, Ruckman said.

Publisher Harper and Row has labeled the book ''a modern classic'' for children, she said.

Ruckman said writing ''Night of the Twisters'' has made her more respectful of severe storms and the damage they can cause.

''I'm a lot more afraid of tornadoes than I used to be.''