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The fantasy writing workshop Elizabeth Winthrop will conduct next week as part of the Salt Lake City Public Library's Children's Literature Conference filled up shortly after registration began.

That delighted the award-winning author - not because her ego needed stroking, but because it's a reassuring sign that interest in her art form is alive and well among today's young people."It certainly shows a lot of interest in writing, which always warms my heart," said Winthrop, 46, who has published more than 30 titles for children of all ages since 1972.

Winthrop, author of the critically acclaimed fantasy "The Castle in the Attic," and author-illustrator Ruth Heller are the featured guests for the third annual conference, Tuesday-Saturday, Aug. 8-12. Most of the events will be held at the main branch of the library, 209 E. 500 South.

In a time when television, video games, computer programs and the Internet are luring many youngsters away from the bookshelves, Winthrop is concerned that American youths are not reading and writing enough. And libraries, she fears, could get caught up in the trend.

"I am a little worried," she said. "When a library has only a limited budget and they're looking at what they can buy and they think a CD-ROM is going to bring in more kids, they're going to buy a CD-ROM.

"But I don't think books are dead, I think that business is silly. People look at computer screens all day and don't want to look at a computer screen at night."

Not surprisingly, you won't find a television in the Winthrop household in New York City. But Winthrop says parents needn't go to that extreme to cultivate young readers and writers.

"You have to push them to move beyond TV mentality in terms of writing, to really think in a more innovative and unique way and connect to their own experience," she said.

Winthrop recommends parents provide time to read to their younger children, then encourage them to take time to read on their own once they're capable. If they show interest in writing, keeping their thoughts in a journal is a good way to practice, she said.

"It doesn't need to be shown to anybody, and don't put down what happens, put down how you feel about things," she said. "Become an observant witness of your own life.

"And you must read - it gives you the greatest advantage."

Winthrop's two-hour writing workshop for those age 12 to 15 will be held Wednesday, Aug. 9. Although the workshop is full, Winthrop also will give a free discussion at 7 p.m. in the lecture hall of the main library, to which those of all ages are invited.

Heller, known for her illustrations in "Chickens Aren't the Only Ones" and "Animals Born Alive and Well," will give a workshop on Thursday, Aug. 10, and also meet with the public at 7 p.m. in the main library's lecture hall.

The literature conference and the library's summerlong exploration of the Legend of King Arthur conclude with a Medieval Festival on Aug. 12 at the City/County Building. For more information about the conference, contact the library at 524-8200.