On October 4th, my group of after-school creative writers had the privilege of welcoming my friend and VCFA classmate Allyson Valentine to our class. For an hour, she dazzled the sixth and seventh graders with stories and exercises, using examples from well-known books as well as her own recently published How (Not) to Find a Boyfriend to help them use their own emotions to create characters who are memorable.
Initially I was worried. It was only the third meeting of the class, so I didn’t know the kids very well — as students or as writers. I’ve taught seventh grade for many years, and this year I’m teaching eighth, so I especially was concerned with the sixth grade boys — a population of children who slightly scare me and who make up a majority of the class.
They’re still, well, children and at an awkward stage between big kid and teenager. They’re immature. They often talk out of turn. One of them makes random noises. Another is a fan of potty humor (as in bodily functions) and consistently questions every writing activity we do as if it can’t possibly help him with his story. A third speaks with zero enunciation, so I can barely understand him most of the time.
So when Allyson ran down the hall and into my classroom, I was overjoyed at seeing this friend I hadn’t seen in a few years, but slightly nervous at the prospect of how the session might go. However, I shouldn’t have been worried at all.
From the moment Allyson entered the room, the kids were attentive. They chatted over snacks, and when it was time for her to begin, everyone was focused. They listened, they wrote, and when it was over, they asked questions. I was proud of my friend for being able to captivate these children, and I looked at these preteens in a whole new way, too. They were serious about writing. Very serious.
This past Friday, the kids talked about Allyson and how much they enjoyed her presentation. Those who didn’t have time to share last week started the class off sharing their work. They wrote her thank you letters that are so, so sweet. And when it was time to write, they opened their notebooks and diligently set about creating their own worlds.