I went to a very good, highly regarded all girls private school (back in ancient times) but two things they never did were bring in authors or teach us much about the creative writing process. (My father also feels they neglected geography, but that’s another story…)
I thought authors were akin to gods – certainly not real people – and to me, a life of writing didn’t seem like an option. Journalism, OK – but not creative writing. People from my school became doctors, lawyers, and senators. Those that became stay-at-home moms tried not to attract too much attention because with an education like ours you were supposed to be out there doing something with it (as if using it to raise happy, well-adjusted, good kids isn’t important… but that’s also another story!)
Anyway, the point is, I visit a lot of public schools whose reputations probably can’t hold a candle to my alma mater, but they do invite authors and illustrators and put a lot more effort into showing kids first hand that the creative life is an option.
One local school in particular has been running a terrific program for 4 or 5 years now. They call it Books Journey, and it’s a program for fourth graders. It is kicked off by local authors and illustrators (and we are lucky – there are a lot of us in the Hudson Valley!) coming in to talk about their creative process and the creative spark – how they generate ideas.
The kids are then each given a journal, and during dedicated class time, they begin writing their own books. After a couple of weeks, I come in – and that’s what I’m doing today and tomorrow! My job is to help them keep going after the initial spark has worn off and they are stuck. We talk about characters, setting, obstacles, raising the stakes, crafting a satisfying ending etc., and how to keep going when you’re not sure what to do.
The kids then go back and finish their stories. Then the school has a couple of professional editors come in and talk about editing, followed by a book cover designer who teaches the kids about the importance of cover design. Finally, they have a marketing specialist come in and teach them about how professional authors market their books.
At the very end, they have a book fair, where all 100 or so of the books are on display for students, teachers and parents to look at.
It’s an amazing program, one I wish more schools could do. It does take a lot of organization, but it is so worthwhile for the kids. You should see how proud they are of their finished books!
So today and tomorrow, I’m off to teach fourth graders. Wish me luck and good communications skills so I can be really helpful to them – who knows? A future great novelist may be among them 🙂
Do you know of schools who do a particularly good job of teaching writing? What do they do?