Mentoring Kid Writers

hand_02If you read this blog you know I’m passionate about kids reading, especially boys. Over the years I’ve logged a lot of hours as a literacy volunteer including a full year with a group of hard core “reluctant” readers, and working with some second language learners. However, this year I started teaching creative writing and I wanted to share a few of the things my group of 7, 8 and 9 year-olds taught me.

Kids know what makes a good story:
On our first day we talked about the books The Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham. The kids knew right away the reason the stories were so interesting is because people didn’t agree on something. If Sam I Am gave up the first time the protagonist said he didn’t like green eggs and ham the story would have ended and no one would have liked it very much. Likewise with The Cat in the Hat. If Thing 1 and Thing 2 didn’t destroy the house and the fish didn’t yell at them to stop there would be no story to read. These little kids, without being told, already understood the importance of conflict in a good story. They also knew in almost every case what the conflict area was, and they could articulate what needed to change in order to resolve that conflict.

Some kids can create stories out of anything:
For one of our sessions I dealt the kids story cards. A hand of five cards consisted of two character cards, two events cards and a conclusion card. Their mission, string these four unrelated items into one cohesive story that fit the conclusion card. To give you some ideas of what they were working with, for characters they had: a frightened lifeguard, a shipwrecked space alien, a fireman with a broken arm. For events they had things like: discover a treasure cave, find a message in a bottle, or get an A on a big test. For conclusions a few were: danced the hokey pokey, became king/queen, or went to live in an enchanted forest. A few kids needed a hand fusing these unrelated ideas together, but most didn’t let the wildly unrelated cards slow them down at all. They twisted and re-envisioned the events in surprising ways. They thrust a fireman into shark infested waters to rescue someone drowning, and sent a taxi driver sailing away to an island of lost pets.

Kids instinctively worried about borrowing ideas from other writers:
This issue came up a lot. “That’s too much like….” was a common complaint. When the little author wanted help refreshing the storyline, we worked as a group throwing out ideas to help them change the story. A very creative retelling of King Kong came out of one such brainstorming session and the author was thrilled when his brave painter climbed the Eiffel Tower to bring the poor migraine-suffering Kong some much needed medicine. Thereby thwarting the efforts of a team of military men bent on shelling Kong and the Parisian landmark into oblivion.

Kids know what they like:
Animal loving kids always found a way to turn any set of events into a pet story. The little romantics always found a way of creating a happy ending regardless of the terrors their characters faced. Funny kids wrote funny stories and a few of my boy writers just blew the hell out of everything at the end with a great big smile on their faces.
No matter how we started these stories, not one single child failed to create something they wanted to share. However, over 50% of them struggled to write their stories down. Some lacked the vocabulary, others the motor skills to print more then a few lines without getting frustrated. It’s sad to see the mechanics of writing rob these budding storytellers of their voices. In the end I wondered how many kids lose the magical storytelling ability we’re all born with because they lack the tools and we adults don’t find the time to validate and record their fledgling efforts for them.

It’s open house this week and these little writers will be showing off their stories to the parents for the first time. I couldn’t be prouder of them or more grateful for everything they taught me this year.

Author: Robin Rivera

Robin trained as a professional historian and worked as a museum curator, an educator and historical consultant. She writes dark young adult fiction, with diverse characters. She's currently querying a novel, and working on two new manuscripts that started off as NaNoWriMo projects. You can follow her on Facebook(https://www.facebook.com/robin.rivera.90813) or on Twitter @robinrwrites. However, Pinterest (https://www.pinterest.com/RRWrites/) is where her inner magpie is happiest of all.

8 thoughts on “Mentoring Kid Writers”

  1. When my eldest son was four he dictated a story to me which I scribbled down as fast as I could and then typed up for him. He was too young to write it himself but he knew what he wanted to say. Kids have amazing imaginations and sometimes they just need a little help to get their ideas on paper.

    1. Hi Margarita, This is a pretty common, I’ve had the same experience with my own kids. But I think “all” kids are hardwired to tell stories, we just need to stop and listen to them. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I was an educator for a very long time (39 years), and teaching reading and writing was (still is) my passion. I agree with all you wrote, Robin, but I got to say, it drove me nuts that everybody and his sister thought writing kids’ books was easy. Some of the best writing out there is in children’s and adolescent literature. And some of the worst! Writing for kids is harder (in my opinion) than writing for adults. I’ve done both! Thanks for another thoughtful post.

    1. Hi Sharon, I’m with you, I think writing for kids is harder. And it’s a rare writer who can meet their needs and please adult readers at the same time. Those writers stick with us and live on well past their publication dates to enter into the canon of children’s literature. I hope my post didn’t suggest otherwise. My intention was to show how empowering it is for kids to learn they “can” write a story, and it’s not the exclusive domain of adults. Robin

  3. What a lovely experience that must be but like you say I wonder how many people grow up and lose the magic of storytelling. It seems that as we grow older we’re told we have to be sensible and act like an adult. What a lot of hooey that it. My mum told me to believe in magic and I still do and I’m not going to stop believing. Storytelling for me is part of that magic. I can create anything I want to through the art of storytelling.

    1. Hi Angela, My mother used to tell me the same thing about magic, and now I tell it to my kids. I think there’s a special magic that comes from helping a child figure out they’re good at something, something they’ve never expected to be good at. And I love it. Thanks for dropping in. Robin

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