Saturday, January 12, 2008

Is there a Children’s Book in You?

On Monday, Joyce Hostetter and I were welcomed to NCCAT, the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching. This retreat center, which snuggles into the Appalachian Mountains across from Western Carolina University, is a teacher's dream come true. For one week out of the year, North Carolina public school teachers are given the opportunity to study, relax, and rejuvenate tired minds. This particular week, Joyce and I had the privilege of leading twenty-three K-12 teachers through the process of writing for the children's market.

As we listened to the teacher's goals when we assembled together on Monday afternoon, many repeated the same theme: "I'm coming here to see if I have what it takes to be a writer." Joyce and I were expecting them to state that they wanted to write a picture book or a young adult novel. As we found out, their goals were far more personal: they needed permission to "open a vein" and write which was bubbling just beneath the surface. After that initial session, I advised the group that beyond the ability to write (which they all demonstrated beautifully), they each needed two greater skills: the ability to receive rejection and the ability to persevere.

As I anticipated, Joyce and I complemented each other. It is as if we have each been developing our skills in anticipation of crossing paths at the MidSouth Reading and Writing Institute last June. Joyce, as the middle grade author of BLUE, brought her knowledge of writing dialogue, historical fiction, and personality types (both of the authors and characters!). I brought Teaching the Story: Fiction Writing in Middle School, 15 years critiquing manuscripts for the SCBWI Charlotte group, and my experiences teaching teachers. We were delighted to discover that not only our laptops full of powerpoints dovetailed, but our personalities worked well together also. Joyce gently chided me that I was the one who made sure we stayed on our schedule and was ready to improvise in front of the group; I envied Joyce's well-designed powerpoints that had cars and characters careening on and off the screen.

On Thursday afternoon the group gathered to share how NCCAT had refreshed and challenged us both personally and professionally. That evening, as we met to hear everyone's work, I felt like a midwife as I listened to poems, picture books, magazine articles, and the beginnings of several young adult novels. It was a privilege to be a part of the birthing process of so many stories for children–and of the writers themselves.

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