Kids & Books…Books & Kids

Last week I was a teacher-pre­sen­ter at a young authors and artists con­fer­ence for a cou­ple of days. Tremen­dous fun — the kids who come to these things want to be there and want to learn. They’re read­ers, writ­ers, artists! They are an engaged, engaging, and exu­ber­ant lot, which I enjoy immensely.

I taught six ses­sions on bring­ing con­flict to your sto­ries — “Mak­ing It Even Worse” was the title of my ses­sion. Con­flict is dif­fi­cult for me to write, so I’ve had to fig­ure out ways to approach is from the side…. But oh, the imag­i­na­tions of kid­dos! They are mas­ter­ful at cre­at­ing what a writ­ing teacher of mine calls “incre­men­tal perturbations.”

At the begin­ning of each ses­sion I asked them to intro­duce them­selves with name and grade, and then tell me a favorite book of theirs and some­thing about why it’s a favorite. I love ask­ing kids those last two ques­tions — I feel like I learn some­thing about them very quick­ly. I also build my read­ing list. If they men­tion a book I’ve read, I try to say some­thing about why I like that book, too. If they men­tion a book I’ve not read, I write it down.

They think this is fas­ci­nat­ing — that I read the same books they do, and keep a list of books that they rec­om­mend. One boy said, “This is a book for kids, just so you know….” And I said, “I know — those are the best books!”

What I learned from two days with third and fourth graders is this: They real­ly like series books. They enjoy read­ing all the books in the series, or at least attempt­ing to. They enjoy what I con­sid­er pell-mell action books — cliff hang­ers at the end of every chap­ter, so many incre­men­tal per­tur­ba­tions your head spins, con­stant per­il etc. They also enjoy less rau­cous books, espe­cial­ly if ani­mals are involved — books like Charlotte’s Web, Mrs. Fris­by and the Rats of NIMH, Pablo and Birdy, Black Beau­ty. They think these are best read out loud — a teacher of par­ent read­ing to them. They can be sharply divid­ed as to whether they like a magical/fantasy ele­ment to their books, though Har­ry Pot­ter and the Per­cy Jack­son series seems to rise above any objec­tions to fan­ta­sy — they feel real, I’m told.

I love these kinds of book dis­cus­sions with kids — the exchange of titles, the pas­sion­ate opin­ions, the “…and if you like that, then you’d real­ly like ______!” It’s not only a great way to begin class, but also an easy way to put out there that books are things to be talked about.

As they left, many kids were feed­ing me more titles. “I bet you haven’t read this one…” they’d say. And they were so tick­led if I had, or if I ran to put it on my list.

Such an easy fun thing to do: Ask the kid­dos in your life what they’re reading….

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David LaRochelle
4 years ago

What a good strat­e­gy, Melanie. And it’s always heart­en­ing to hear that kids are still pas­sion­ate about the books they are reading!