I just got home from an all-day visit to St. Lawrence Academy Senior Campus here in Montreal. I worked with four groups of Grade Six students -- and instead of being zonked out, I'm energized!
I talked about many of my favourite subjects: the importance of reading and writing (daily if possible); the need for revising our work; where story ideas come from; and how asking the question "What if?" can help advance a story.
I also had special permission from my friend, the school's librarian, Wendy Corner, and the school's principal, Mr. Adrien, to talk a little about my latest YA novel, So Much It Hurts. Both Miss Wendy and Mr. Adrien knew that the subject matter -- violence in relationships -- is serious and difficult, but I want to thank both of them for letting me tackle the topic today. And I want to say thanks to the students for listening so kindly and sensitively and for asking such perceptive, wise questions. As Mr. Adrien told me when we had a moment to chat, violence in relationships remains a taboo topic -- and I agree with him that we need to discuss it to raise awareness.
I told one group I've been taking boxing lessons and how my coach constantly reminds me to "Protect yourself!" That's a message I want to pass on to young people, too. If you ever find yourselves in a dangerous relationship, get help. Don't try to pretend everything is fine, the way Iris does in my novel.
There was time for the classes to do a short writing exercise. I asked the students to write about a memory from when they were five years old. A student named Veronica wrote a beautiful piece about the Christmas after her grandpa died. She remembered receiving a doll she named Bella. But even the gift did not make Veronica's sadness go away. I told Veronica I have a hunch she should be writing poetry. Go for it, Veronica!
A student named Kalvin remembered details about his kindergarten class. Kalvin described how the room "smelled like chicken fingers." As I told him, that detail really transports the reader to the classroom! Way to go, Kalvin!
An interesting coincidence: several students wrote about their memories of a beloved kindergarten teacher, Miss Simpson. Frankly, I feel as if I made Miss Simpson's acquaintance today because I read so much about her! One of the St. Lawrence Senior teachers told me she is friends with Miss Simpson, who recently retired from St. Lawrence's Junior Campus, and that she'll get her to read this blog entry. So, Miss Simpson, I want to tell you that you made a great impression on your former students -- and that they were a terrific audience today. You must be a special woman!
I asked one group to think of a word that starts with the letters "T" and "R" and that is essential to a story. The first student who picked up his hand suggested the word "Trying." It wasn't the word I had in mind, but I have to say I like it a lot! Characters definitely need to try! And when I asked the student who came up with this suggestion what his name was so I could include it here, guess what he answered?
TRistan!! (With a T and an R in case you did not notice!!)
Today's pic was taken with my 9 A.M. group -- but I must say you guys were all wonderful in different ways. Thanks for making my day fly by. Read, write, ask "What if?", rewrite, and protect yourselves! Thanks Miss Wendy for inviting me to St. Lawrence Academy Senior Campus and for hosting today's visit in your happy library!