My oldest daughter, a third grader and I got the pleasure of attending a Young Authors Conference this past Saturday. Students that participated in the conference met with other students from other participating schools in our region to share their creative writing with each other and meet with the author and illustrator of children’s books.
When it was time to listen to the session where the author of some children’s books was doing her spiel, instead of sitting on the floor with all the other kids in the gym there was a young boy who sat next to me in the back and we talked…about chess club, about science experiments, about magic and Harry Potter and his own story. I talked a little bit about the fact I used to work in the scientific field and his picture of a bookshelf full of potions reminded me of my days in the laboratory.
As the above speaker was talking about her stories, one of her slides had a cow on it and the young boy seemed more interested in telling me how neat it would be to get a cow so his family could have fresh milk, it could eat the grass instead of using a lawn mower, and they could use the manure for fertilizer. Yeah, kids really do have some pretty cool ideas. His mother on the other hand, had to point out there was no way the city would allow a cow in the neighborhood.
My own daughter wrote a story about werewolves coming to attack a group of young campers. I got a chance to type out the story with her while and she was a very good editor of her own work…asking me to delete parts and add new things. It was a pretty great collaboration.
Here is an excerpt:
We walked down to the river, it was about 10:00 p.m when we met face-to-face with 16 werewolves! I wanted scream, but I was too afraid and I whispered, “We should head back to camp to get Jay”.
We heard leaves rustling and a twig snapping on our right. We were afraid until we saw a beam of light and then we saw Jay.
“What’s wrong?” asked Jay.
“See for yourself!” I said, pointing towards the trees where the werewolves were.
“Oh, my gosh,” he said, seeing sixteen pairs of glowing eyes. Suddenly, the werewolves were growling and walking towards us.
“I think they’re hungry,” said Hope and she started crying.
We were soon surrounded. Each one of us was cornered by four werewolves. They bared their sharp teeth, which were huge. I was so afraid and I knew this was the end of us. I screamed.
For a third grader, I think her use of dialogue to move the story along was great. Some of the stories from the fifth graders didn’t employ any use of dialogue.
I volunteered to be a sponsor for a group of 5th graders. When we broke out into the story-reading session, I had 8 students from four different schools share their stories.
I was in my element when in front of the group of kids I had. I enjoyed listening to their imaginations take flight, and I was thrilled to share my love of stories and writing.
All of the kids stories were pretty interesting, but one or two were exceptionally notable. They were all very different…one a first person/diary-style (kind of like a week in the life of or these are a few of my favorite things), one science fiction story about a far away galaxy, one about an illiterate mouse who LOVED books. Her use of details was quite remarkable.
That was an amazing story and I could really see how the young girl really had the makings of a master wordsmith. I had felt bad about stopping her short, but we’d run out of time. One really felt the spirit of that little mouse who loved books even though he could not read and how bound and determined he was to go to the library and to learn how to read. She was a stunning story spinner.
And there was another child who smiled during parts of her story. She just lit up. It was wonderful to see.
I was given a sheet of questions to ask the kids about their books they wrote. At first I read one or two questions from the list, but threw the list out and simply improvised and instead I had a conversation with the kids about what struck me from their writings. It was pretty amazing.
I made individual thoughtful comments about what I know about the process of writing books. I started getting inspired by what they wrote and how some of their writings made me feel. I made connections between their stories and their lives and brought up a point or two from my experience as an amateur writer. I told them a little bit about if they were out in the real world, they might actually collaborate on a story, just like two young co-authors did.
I felt something kindling in me…that maybe I should do something that puts me in a position to keep that spark of imagination in children. To be able to get up in front of young people and inspire them, it’s a really fantastic feeling. I had this experience once before for a forensic DNA lecture I gave to a group of fourth graders.
It occurred to me, how the children’s enthusiasm (and my own) grew in that classroom , because I, an adult who loved books myself and loved writing, and who would like to get published some day, really felt a connection to them and supported their efforts and really enjoyed their expressions.
Which reminds me of something I else I had realized.
The boy who sat next to me listening to the author talk was also in my breakout group. He read his story last, and he stopped in the middle of his story and said “oh, here, I forgot to show you one the pictures when we were sitting in the gym”. And that’s when I realized, in the mind of a child, an adult’s enthusiastic appreciation of their work is of importance. He didn’t care to show his picture to the other children as much as he wanted to show me, because, as an adult who valued what he had to say, my input means something to him. I marveled at this. He didn’t care what my credentials were, that I wasn’t a teacher, or that I was just a stay at home mom at this point in my life, but that I respected and enjoyed his expressions.
That reinforced something I already knew, that adult who values a child’s expression is more valuable to their self-esteem than many adults may realize. Heck, even me, in my awareness and in my own struggles to raise my daughters, I do appreciate the little reminder of that priceless fact. Kids need to feel their expressions have merit.
I didn’t know how my daughter’s experience was going, as she was in a different story reading session that I was, but I hoped it was as inspiring as mine was.
She started off the day rather shy. She didn’t speak much on the bus ride over at 8:30 in the morning and was a little annoyed that I was taking pictures of her, and was really glad I wasn’t in her session. I, on the other hand, was a little sad, but I got over it.
At the end of conference, all the kids on the bus, including my own, came back differently. Each was thoroughly enthusiastic about their stories. They all began to take turns reading their stories to each other and the few adults that were on board. It was a remarkable thing to see.
When we were done, my daughter said to me, “I can’t wait until next year’s conference.”
I went into her bedroom last night to see her working on another story. Before this conference, she rather lost her enthusiasm, as her interests were moving towards a budding interest in softball. I’m glad to see her writing interest take off again.