Wednesday, February 24, 2010

THE BUSINESS OF CHILDREN'S BOOKS: "Free" Lessons for Children's Book Writers

On Wednesday mornings, I teach "Literary Magazine" in my son's third-grade classroom. I take half the class  at a time, so it's nice for the teacher to spend an hour with a smaller group. And, it's something different for the kids, so they seem to enjoy it, too. But the person who likes "Literary Magazine" best of all is me. (For a charming take on school visits, read Louise Borden's delightful THE DAY EDDIE MET THE AUTHOR.)
What's so great about spending an hour a week with ten third-graders?

• I get to experiment with writing strategies, themes and ideas I am developing for reading guides.

• I learn what works and what doesn't work--what makes sense and what goes right out the proverbial window.

• I get to see what third graders of all sorts of ability levels can and want to do.

• Working with my son's class reminds me that all kids don't find reading easy...all kids don't love to write...but ALL KIDS want to share their stories.

These lessons are valuable in so many ways, not the least of which is the way that they can prepare published and unpublished writers for the school and library marketing journey. Here (in no particular order) are six things I have learned.

1. I love teaching kids and I don't mind if they're a little bit flaky. In fact, I often find the disinterested or unfocused kid my biggest challenge and work hard to think of ways to help them get in touch with their "inner writer."

2. I can make kids think I'm cool (and occasionally funny) by not being too strict and admitting when I mess something up.

3. I love the hush that comes over the group when I read something really great out loud.

4. I find that kids enjoy breaking down WHY a story or paragraph engages them.

5. I have found free writing to be a great teaching tool, but it is skill that must be developed and tends to get harder as kids reach adolescence (this I've learned from also working with older students).

6. I find stereotypes such as "hyper kids should be onstage" and "quiet kids are probably going to become computer programmers or writers" to be highly amusing--and the kids do, too!

If you can't make a list something like the one above, go to your local elementary, middle or high school and volunteer to teach writing (aka, "free" lessons on developing your school and library marketing platform and presentation). If you wind up having fun, then school and library appearances are probably for you!


Carmela Martino said...

I love working with young readers and writers, too, Stasia. And I'm lucky enough to be able to teach summer writing camps for students in grades 4-8 at a local arts center. It definitely enriches both my writing and my life. And it keeps me on my toes. :-)

Dawn Simon said...

I volunteered in my kids' classes when they were younger, and it was a ton of fun! It's nice you take half the class at a time--a win-win-win situation since you, the kids, and the teacher all benefit. :)

Caroline Starr Rose said...

I loved teaching writing. One of my favorite writing lessons was to use program music (classical music meant to tell a story, such as The Four Seasons) and have my students write what they heard.

Almost always they would tell me classical music made them think of old people and castles. By the end, they decided it wasn't so bad.

Stasia said...

So cool to hear how about other teaching-of-writing experiences. Caroline--I enjoy using music, too. One of my favorite pieces is Rossinni's William Tell Overture. Everybody starts thinking about Robin Hood or hunting but many wind up in very different places in the end! Carmela--What a great age group to work with--must make for a wonderfully enriching summer. And Dawn--agreed, it is a win-win to be able to work with small groups for both myself as the writing teacher and for the classroom teacher looking for a little enrichment time with the rest of the kids.

Ashley Howland said...

Great blog, I loved reading and sharing stories with kids when I was a teacher. In fact it is one of the things I miss, wrting a story with a whole class of kids can be som much fun for everyone.