In my dreams, I imagine schools and book groups calling me to come talk about my novel and about what it’s like to be a writer.
First, though, I should probably get my book published.
While that process continues, I got my feet wet with my first official school visit as a writer, and I absolutely loved it.
My husband’s cousin, Kate, teaches 4th graders at W.C. Petty Elementary School in Antioch, Illinois. We’ve talked at family gatherings about teaching and children’s books, and she asked if I’d be willing to come talk to her students about my writing process. I’d assumed she meant 20 or so students — but she arranged for me to meet the entire 4th grade — over 100 eager readers.
It. Was. Heaven. I couldn’t have enjoyed myself more.
I brought a PowerPoint presentation that highlighted who I am and what I like to do. I tried to include some fun photos, like me on a dune buggy, sailing, and holding my dog, just to demonstrate that I don’t sit at a desk all day and make up imaginary stories. I talked about some of my favorite books, including Rules, Kira Kira, Starring Sally J. Freedman As Herself, So B. It and two by Brenda Ferber: Julia’s Kitchen and Jemma Hartman, Camper Extraordinaire.
The kids asked a ton of questions and gave me lots of feedback, and every comment meant the world to me:
How’d you get started writing?
Does your hand get cramped?
Do you use a typewriter? (I think that kid figured I’m a lot older than I am).
Do you wear a lifejacket when you go sailing?
My personal favorite:
You know, you’re kind of like J.K. Rowling, before she got famous.
My second personal favorite:
Can I get your autograph?
The kids actually lined up for my autograph. Aside from signing credit card slips, I’ve never been asked for my autograph by anyone. I wanted to cry, especially when some kids chose not to use paper and have me sign their arms.
I’m never washing this arm again, they said.
The experience reminds me just how important it is to bring this book to market.
Before I made my trip to W.C. Petty School, I put out a request to fellow SCBWI-Illinois writers, asking for any advice they had for me on my first school visit, as well as what I could tell 4th graders what some of my published author-friends feel like (I can only hope to join their ranks). Here’s what some of them said:
Christine, your very enthusiasm – your excitement about writing – will carry through to the kids. You’ve probably already experienced that connection – that spark – through your talks to the Scouts and your Book Club. What you want to convey to kids is what it is that intrigues you so much that you want to capture it in words to share with others – that’s writing.
And yes, this is what I hope I’ve done with my books – especially my middle-grade historical novels, Sean’s War and Sean’s Quest. With these books I wanted to show 12-yr.-old Sean’s struggle to understand the “whys” of conflict, whether political, as in the Black Hawk War of 1832 between the settlers and the native Americans, or personal, as in the “war” between his father and stepmother – and make it as relevant to today’s young people as it was to Sean in his time.
Leone Castell Anderson
Good luck on this! I have not been in class with this age group, so no wisdom to share, except… DO make sure you areready to wander around and not stay in the same place the whole time… I think it keeps them awake! At least for middle school that seemed important.
Good for you for getting out there! I spoke before I had a book too, and the kids don’t really care. I find that with fourth graders, it’s great to speak to them as “fellow writers,” and show them that you do the same things they do — revise, make mistakes, feel frustrated sometimes, etc. I always tell kids that they’re just as much writers as I am. I’ve just been doing it longer!