Usually, when I get home from a school visit and start my blog, I begin by writing, "I'm just home from a visit to..." -- only today, I never left the house (except for a run early this morning). Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, I am doing mostly virtual school visits. Today, I worked with students at Evergreen Elementary School in St. Lazare, and IT WORKED. I'm pretty sure the students learned some useful pointers from me, and I'm absolutely sure I had a blast. (I consider that last part important too!)
My friend, librarian Ms. Hausen went to a lot of trouble to arrange for my visits to several LBPSB schools. And together, we came up with a plan -- I'm speaking to Grade Five classes about a new subject: Writing About the Pandemic; and with the sixes, I'm covering Historical Fiction, so that I can tell them about the process behind my two latest historical novels, The Taste of Rain and Room for One More.
I think it turned out to be a good plan -- especially since many of the Evergreen students had heard me when I visited their school in 2018. So, I whipped through the basic writing tips I usually focus on in a first school visit -- and got down to business.
Here come some highlights from the day!
Teacher Mr. Khoury got things off to a fun start when I overheard him tell his Grade 5/6 class, "Calm down. It's not a dance party!" (To be honest, I kind of liked the idea of a dance party myself!)
I "met" a student named Mitzi -- I told her I am stealing her name for a future character. Mitzi is a spunky name. And I will give the character Mtizi's colorful leggings too. This example is to show you how authors steal/recycle/borrow people from the real world to use in our stories!
Writers also need to be observant. Today I observed a student named Nicole turning her head upside down so she could fix her ponytail. (Another great detail to steal/recycle/borrow for a story), and a boy (was his name Max? help me out here in the comments, and I'll make sure to include his correct name) boogying in his seat!
When we talked about how the pandemic has not only changed our world, but also the stories that we will tell, a student named Mia suggested, "You can write a book about a girl and how the pandemic affected her." I could do that, Mia, but I think YOU should write that book -- since you have firsthand knowledge of being a girl going through the pandemic! When I showed the students the diary I write in every day, a student named Maeva (that's her in today's pic) asked, "Did you write about the first three days of the pandemic?" My answer was yes, but then Maeva's question made me think that a story about the very beginning of the pandemic -- what life was like in theose first three days -- would be cool!
When we discussed historical fiction, a student named Logan had this to say: "Historical fiction is about a story you're making; it's not as real." Logan's comment led to what I thought was a pretty grown-up conversation about the intersection between fact and fiction. Historical novels need to be as accurate as possible when it comes to historical events --not to mention things like what people eat and how they dress. But the weird thing for me is that fiction -- which happens when we make up characters and put them into complicated, interesting situations -- has a strange way of telling the truth. However I also reminded the students that what's been going on in the United States has taught us the necessity of truth. When Donald Trump declared that he had won the presidential election before all the votes were counted -- that could not have been true.
The students at Evergreen gave me a lot to think about today. I hope I got their brains working too! I came up with a new bit of advice that I haven't given before, so here it is -- TELL THE STORY THAT MATTERS MOST TO YOU. I like that advice. What about you?
Special thanks to Ms. Hausen, and to teachers Mr. Khoury, Ms. Weir and Ms. Bilodeau for sharing your students with me. It was not a dance party -- but it was close!