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….