Amateur writers meet their audience

Published 10:07 am Saturday, May 9, 2009

Every spring, my Pelham High School writing classes create children’s books for a class at either our elementary or intermediate school. The project begins in early March when my students find my room filled with children’s books.

“You are going to receive your own first-grader,” I tell my writers. My students are relieved to find out that their six–year–old is a loaner.

In the weeks that follow, my high school students explore and present their favorite children’s books discovering traits of each book that captured their imaginations. After presentations, my students begin to create a gift they will work long hours on and give away.

Each of the students in the first–grade class we have partnered with has completed a questionnaire. Listening to the children’s responses, my students choose a child whose answers intrigue them. They all want the child who responds that they get sad “when a hottie hurts your feelings.”

Creating the books is more involved than my students expect. They submit a book proposal and enter text into the computer to be spellchecked and grammar checked. Finally, each group receives their blank book. This book looks just like any children’s book — only it’s completely white. The students work together, struggling to complete lettering and artwork by their deadlines. We finish with photos, info about the author and illustrator passages.

With the books completed and graded, we take a field trip and meet the first graders. Before we arrive at the elementary school, some of the authors sadly anticipate giving their books away. They’ve worked so hard on these books.

“If you kept this book, it would become your possession and wind up on the floorboard of your car or forgotten on a bookshelf,” I tell my skeptical students. “Your talents have value when you share them.”

Our bus arrives and my writers meet the children they’ve written for and share the books they’ve created. High school students and first graders read to each other. Mrs. Haines is our first graders’ teacher. She and I roam around taking pictures and listening. What we hear is delight — the authors are delighted with the kids’ reactions and the first–graders are delighted with the books.

My students are reluctant to leave their first fans behind, but I herd them onto the bus. The first graders dance around with their books, showing them to one another and smiling. My students’ hard work and talent has received audience approval.

“My first graders loved everything about their books and the experience,” said. Mrs. Haines. “They will treasure these gifts.”