1. First write for yourself, and then worry about the audience. “When you write a story, you’re telling yourself the story. When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story.”
Without knowing it, I began following Stephen King’s first rule in my teens. In fifth grade I discovered poetry did not need to rhyme. This revelation inspired me to start jotting free verse. These early poems were my way of processing my feelings about nature impressions, personal thoughts, with no intention of sharing.
Starting a Diary
When I was thirteen, I read “Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl” and discovered I was the same age Anne had been when she started her diary, shortly before entering the Secret Annex. She named her diary “Kitty.” I followed suit until I decided I was being a copycat and changed the name of the imaginary person to whom I wrote to ‘Anne,’ in honor of Anne Frank. That launched my additional addiction, to writing. I wrote all through high school, not for any publication. I did not join peers in writing for the school paper. Instead I poured most of my writing into my diary.
I did write some essays in addition to school papers. I even won an honorable mention for an American Legion Essay contest about the meaning of being a citizen.
One of my favorite assignments in freshman English class was weekly vocabulary. I still remember learning words such as ‘surfeit’ and ‘banal’. My mother’s retort whenever any of us kids used cuss words was “With so many words in the English language, I am sure you can find more creative ones to use than that.”
Reading Aloud to Children
In addition to my own reading addiction, my mother read aloud to her four children even after we were able to read for ourselves. “Brighty of the Grand Canyon,” and “The Wind in the Willows” were two of my favorites.
I took that experience to heart when I became a teacher. Even though I taught upper elementary grades, I made sure I read aloud to my class every day. No matter how shortened the class time might be by weather, conferences, or assemblies, instruction may be shortened, but read-aloud time always happened.
How cool that you read to them even when time was short!
What is something you read to your students?
Mary Lou, There were a few I read multiple times such as Tuck Everlasting and Babe the Gallant Pig. There were others I read that were thematically relevant, most I don’t recall right now. I do remember reading “Where the Red Fern Grows” without reading ahead first and being emotionally impacted in real time in front of the kids. I think it opened up a level of connection they needed. I also had one class to whom I read “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” in late fall. The majority of the class had not had parents read to them. They begged me to read the rest of the series to them.
Mary Lou, the rest of that story is that I decided to drop my other read aloud plans and take on the challenge of reading the entire Narnia series. The class LOVED it; I got to read it for the first time, and I was within a couple of pages of finishing the final book on the last day of school. Another one I read that made a lasting impact was “The Indian in the Cupboard.” One of the non-reading fourth graders in the class LOVED it. I convinced his mother to get the rest of that series and read them aloud to him over summer vacation. His fifth grade teacher cornered me the next October to ask what I did with “J—‘s ‘reading problem’ and when I started to respond that I knew what a challenge it was that he was still not reading at grade level, his teacher stopped me to say, “I can’t get him to stop reading! He hides a book in his desk during Math and reads …” at which point I interrupted to tell him the rest of the story.
What a special gift you gave those kids! Chronicles of Narnia is among my very most faves.
One of the things I see about this story is that you gave the students motivation to read, Lora. I know that seems obvious, but it has a counterpart with the post about the Amazon’s importance that I just read. You’re giving us motivation, too!
Saskia, thank you for that marvelous compliment. I had not looked a that perspective. I am sure you have seen the quote (from I do not know who) about Success? Something along the lines of, “it doesn’t matter what kind of house you lived in or what car you drive, what matters most is that you made a difference in the life of a child.
Many years ago I returned to the small school district where I taught for eight years. I did so every year for graduation as long as students I had taught were graduating. Each year I had one piece of work those students had done in the 3rd, 4th or 5th grade to give them as a graduation gift to remind them of how much they had learned and what they were like when they were younger. One year a student from a previous year’s graduating class came up to me and said, “Ms. Hein, I want to thank you for teaching me to love reading.” This was a student I had always assumed loved to read because she read voraciously during the year she was in my class. When I offered that observation to her she countered, “I hated reading before I was in your class. We did not have any books at home and no one in my family read, so all I knew about reading was what we had to do in school. But you read us cool stories and let us choose anything we wanted to read for silent reading time and I discovered I loved to read.” Right then I knew that no mater what I did the rest of my life I could count myself a success. That former student is now a mother and I am willing to bet her children have had her love of reading instilled in them.
What book would like to take to a mountaintop to have uninterrupted time to read as long as you liked?
My number one choice would be Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt.