Sunday, May 12, 2013

Children's Book People Know How to Have Fun: Part One

One of the most fun things a children's book writer can do is meet the audience--the kids who read the books.  I've had two very special "meet the audience" days recently.

Sculpture outside the Meskwaki Settlement School

Entrance to the Meskwaki Settlement School
In  early April I went to the Meskwakie Settlement School, and visited with children of the Meskuaki Tribe in Tama, Iowa. The Settlement School educates children from preschool age through high school.

I visited with students in grades 3-6.  We talked about how writers can construct characters, how we write about the places that are special to us, and how important it is to keep a journal, to write down our  ideas, to write down the things we want to remember.

There is history, so much history, in and around this school. The Iowa members of Meskwaki Tribe were removed to Kansas in the 1843. In 1856 the Iowa legislature passed a law "allowing" Meskwakis to stay in Iowa (this language is embarrassing in our time, but it's what the law said). In 1857 the Meskwaki Tribe purchased 80 acres of land in Tama County and re-settled in Iowa. On this settlement is built the school which I visited.

I was privileged to be there and spend time with the students--and hope to go back sometime.

Later in April I went to Madison to visit another special school--Crestwood Elementary School where my granddaughter Evelyn is a second grader.  I was one hour in Evelyn's classroom--we invented two characters--Lizzie and Buzzie, what they loved, what they worried about, what they carried in their pockets, what they hoped for--then in the afternoon visited with  all the students in the school. We talked about where writers get ideas for stories: from their families, friends; from what they wish they could do; from their heroes; from the places they loved.

I have done many school visits but not enough that I don't get nervous, hoping that the students and I will make a connection that will have meaning for them, but worrying that all the other things that are going on--school lunch, recess complications, loose teeth--will get in the way. I can't be sure what we've done until I've been there and done the day.

When it's over, though, I am always glad I had the chance for time with students. I am always reminded of what important work we do together when we talk about writing and stories.

And I always come home thinking, "That was good fun!'

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