Passing the torch

Published 1:09 pm Monday, May 16, 2011

Matt Hill, Shawn Winn and Justin Nolen. (Special/Connie Nolen)

By CONNIE NOLEN / Community Columnist

“It had been startling and disappointing to me to find out that story books had been written by people, that books were not natural wonders, coming of themselves like grass,” said Mississippi author Eudora Welty. Indeed, children’s books do possess a magical spark.

Dr. Seuss makes writing in rhyme while delivering profound meaning look easy. The perfect simplicity of Eric Carle’s books ending with lights or sounds adding that touch of technological glam appears effortless. And yet, after studying their favorite children’s books each year, as my high school students toil to create their own original children’s books, they are stunned by the difficulty of the work involved.

My students have studied all genres of writing before they start children’s books. They have written original poems, short stories and chapters of memoir, yet the challenge of the children’s book is still daunting.

“What do you see as the symbolism in this poem?” is replaced with “Who has that green that’s perfect for grass?” as normal classroom dialogue. Discussions of appropriate wording for first-grade vocabularies are sometimes heated. My students work harder on their children’s books than any other writing they will complete because they’re creating this book for a much more deserving audience than their teacher.

They’re creating children’s books for first graders that they will meet. The elementary students have responded to questionnaires about their likes and dislikes, along with their fears and triumphs. Storylines will speak to specific children.

The true magic of books is the engagement they foster. When my students write children’s books each spring, they remember the delight of sharing books. When they travel to the elementary school to read and interact with their first-grade audience, they realize that both their talent and their presence thrill the kids they visit.

My high school authors receive thank-you notes from their first-grade book recipients. Most of the notes are very specific, but first-grader Kaitlyn’s note covers the bases, “Thank you for my book. I like the book because it had awesome pictures and writing in it.”

Most of my students wonder how they will give their books away, but when they meet these appreciative kids, their hands open easily to release their treasures. Junior Jose Gambarelli said, “I liked giving the book to my first-grader because giving the book to her is like passing the torch.”

Connie Nolen can be reached by email at