I did my first classroom visit this week. It was a seventh grade English Literature class that my daughter attends. And if I had one word to describe it, I’d say “Surprising!” Those kids just blew me away with their enthusiasm and creativity.
I started out by asking the kids what their favorite video games were. I had a smattering of hands go up and kids throwing out names of games I’d never heard of (I thought I was somewhat up on such things, but apparently not.) Then I asked what their favorite movies were. A few more hands went up. Hunger Games, Iron Man, Beautiful Creatures and more. At least I’d heard of these. Finally, I asked about favorite books.
I went into this exercise thinking I’d do some kind of “Books can be every bit as exciting as the video games and movies you threw out.” You know, some kind of argument for why the kids should consider reading as something worthwhile. Boy was I in for a surprise. When I asked for their favorite books, the hands just flew up, and the room erupted in a chorus of noise. Hunger Games, Percy Jackson, Divergent… I had a hard time picking out the names because they were coming at me so fast.
After a minute or so, the teacher finally quieted the students down and I told them I was shocked at how enthusiastic they were about reading. One boy raised his hand (it took me a while to get used to the idea of kids asking permission to speak,) and he said “It’s because we’re all nerds.” It was true that this was an advanced English class, so I guess I can’t extrapolate what I learned here across all middle-school students, but I loved, I mean LOVED to see these twenty to thirty kids so excited about books.
I then talked about how I write. Starting with how I get ideas, how I outline (or don’t outline,) the actual writing, editing, and publishing. The most fun, I had was when we talked about coming up with ideas for stories. I started out by saying that there really is nothing new under the sun. So if they start a new story thinking they will write something that has never been written before, then they will only end up frustrated. I talked about how most of my ideas are basically twists on other stories. Noah Zarc is a future, time-travel twist on the story of Noah’s Ark. A new book I’m writing is a twist on the story of Joseph and his Coat of Many Colors. So I asked them to think of various old stories that maybe we could put a new spin on.
Again, ideas started flying left and right. Some were way out there, but all of them were awesome. It shouldn’t be surprising, after my two examples, that we settled on creating a story based on David and Goliath. Then we talked about how to make that story our own. How could we make the characters different? Some suggestions included lasers coming out of Goliath’s eyes. There were ideas about Goliath being a bully in school. On and on they went. At last we settled on Goliath being a small kid, and David being a giant (I had said how it can be fun to reverse roles.) And the setting was a school in space.
So for a while (not too long, I was running out of time) I asked them to think about what kind of story could happen with just these basic elements. The kids said it’d still be cool to have the small Goliath be the bully, and the giant be afraid of him (again lasers from the eyes was a good way to make that happen.) There wasn’t a kid in the room who didn’t throw out some kind of idea to flesh out the story.
I just stood there grinning, watching these kids debate and flesh out the story. I think the teacher felt like maybe they were getting out of hand, but I absolutely loved it. It gave me a renewed sense of why I write for kids. They are so free and willing to explore fantastical characters and worlds. But I also loved seeing their hearts, especially when they talked about making Goliath a bully. I could totally see a story like this being a whole lot of fun, but also able to address important topics.
If you’re an author who hasn’t had the privilege of doing a classroom visit, I totally recommend it. If you’re a kid who loves reading, THANK YOU! And, if you’re a kid who loves writing, keep at it! I’d love to hear what kind of crazy, funny, meaningful things you have to say.
D. Robert Pease has been interested in creating worlds since childhood. From building in the sandbox behind his house, to drawing fantastical worlds with paper and pencil, there has hardly been a time he hasn’t been off on some adventure in his mind, to the dismay of parents and teachers alike. Also, since the moment he could read, books have consumed vast swaths of his life. From The Mouse and the Motorcycle, to The Lord of the Rings, worlds just beyond reality have called to him like Homer’s Sirens. It’s not surprising then he chose to write stories of his own. Each filled with worlds just beyond reach, but close enough we can all catch a glimpse of ourselves in the characters.
D. Robert has published three books in the Noah Zarc Trilogy: Noah Zarc: Mammoth Trouble, Noah Zarc: Cataclysm, and Noah Zarc: Declaration, as well as the complete Omnibus Edition of Noah Zarc with all three books in one volume along with twenty-two pencil illustrations from the author.