I spent yesterday afternoon at Ecole du Vieux-Chêne in Terrebonne, where I had a lot of fun working with two Grade Six English classes. They were a large group (more than 60 students in all) and I had them for a whole afternoon. It's not always easy for kids (or adults!!) to stay focused for several hours, but these kids were pretty amazing. It was only towards the very end that I got the feeling they were ready to call it a day -- and put me and my writing tips and stories behind them!!
A student named Coralie told me she wants to be a writer too! Then she asked me, "Where do you get your energy from?" I explained that I get my energy from hanging around kids!! (Look at the pic in today's blog post for proof. I don't think I smile that much around adults!!)
My adventure at Vieux-Chêne started before I even arrived. That's because I got a little lost on the drive (I missed a change of highway!!) and I emailed teacher Ms. Tirtoaca to say I'd be a few minutes late. She phoned me while I was in the car and said, "I can meet you." When I arrived -- breathless -- in the classroom, I explained how kind Ms. Tirtoaca had been and how just speaking with her had calmed me down. Then I explained that I thought Ms. Tirtoaca had been offering to drive over to the highway to find me -- what she really meant was that she'd meet me in the parking lot of the school. So, together with Ms. Tirtoaca and the kids, we invented a story by asking one of my favourite questions: WHAT IF?
What if Ms. Tirtoaca enlisted the help of local firefighters who let her borrow their firetruck? What if all the kids from Ms. Tirtoaca and Mr. Nacer's classes had piled onto the firetruck and come to rescue me and lead me back to the school? Wow, that would have been fun. Let's add some TROUBLE which is, as I told the students, an essential ingredient in a story. What if the other drivers on the highway got upset with me for stopping traffic? What if they started honking or got out of their cars to yell at all of us? What if, to calm the drivers down, the students had started to sing -- and the whole thing turned into a concert on the highway?
As I pointed out to the students, none of this happened -- but making up a story IS FUN. It's one of the reasons I love being a writer.
I asked for three students to volunteer to take notes -- Darine, Léonie and Antoine were my official notetakers. But then Coralie called out, "Can I take notes too?" Coralie's question led to Mia and Maely calling out, "Me too!" That made me laugh and made me happy -- writing notes helps us remember stuff we learn.
Also a special shoutout to Akim, who actually helped me with my own notes (I need notes so I can write my blog entries). He also helped me locate the book I wanted to show the students -- a novel I am reading by Linda Amyot. When I couldn't find the novel in my pile of books, Akim found it! Thanks for that Akim -- and also for your excellent notes.
I also explained to the students that writers need to collect interesting details to use in their stories. That's why I wrote down something Akim said to me: "When I come back home, I'm going to have grilled cheese." I may need to use that line in a book -- because it tells me not only that Akim likes grilled cheese, but also that he wanted to share that information with me!
During the second half of my presentation, I told the students the story behind my picture book, The Brass Charm -- and I read them the book and showed them the beautiful illustrations done by Marie Lafrance. I explained how the story was inspired by a gift my mother received on her fourteenth birthday when she was a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp. I also showed the students the replica of the charm that I wear every day around my neck.
There was even time for two short writing exercises. This was also when some students got a bit restless. In one exercise, I had the students write about their own precious object -- in another I asked them to remember a moment from their pasts. Darine and Akim gave me permission to quote their work here. Darine wrote about a gift she received from her mother: "a pretty small trunk -- purple and gold with many seashells... I received it for my tenth birthday." Akim wrote about his memory of learning that his aunt had died: "I tasted my salty tears and it smelled pancakes that my brother made and I saw my parents' room and their sad faces." In both cases, Darine and Akim use details to take us into their worlds. Thanks for that!
Thanks to all the kids for doing your best during my visit! Thanks to Ms. Tirtoaca for the invite -- and to you and Mr. Nacer for sharing your kids with me. Oh, I forgot to explain that vieux chêne means old oak tree -- and we were trying to figure out where the oak tree after which the school is named is located. Apparently, there's an oak tree at the front of the school and another in the yard. You know what? I think the story of those two oak trees would be fun to write -- and read. Maybe next time I'm back at Ecole du Vieux-Chêne the kids might read me that story! So to the kids -- have fun, learn a lot, and don't forget to READ and WRITE!!!
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