Guest blog by Shout Mouse Story Intern, Barrett
Over the past month, we’ve been partnered with Reach Incorporated to lead their literacy tutors in writing children’s books.
The three writers in my group were playful and creative. All were first-time authors, and they learned quickly that writing a children’s book is not as easy as it may seem! But when they got excited about something, they would snowball off of each other, their ideas becoming more and more fantastical and fun. The personalities of these writers, plus their active imaginations, are reflected in the idea they came up with for their story.
We had been brainstorming for about 45 minutes when we came across a prompt asking the writers to think about their audience--primarily the elementary students they tutor, but also young readers everywhere--and to reminisce about their own second grade experience.
“I was held back in second grade,” one of the writers said. “But it wasn’t my fault--the teacher was evil.” The rest of the group started to become engaged as they shared stories of all of their evil teachers and their cruel tactics: pinching them, hitting them with rulers, calling their parents. They decided they wanted to write a story about an evil second grade teacher. They talked about how they had told their parents about their evil teachers but nobody believed them. These writers wanted to create a story to empower kids to make a difference for themselves.
Three weeks later, they’ve completed a wacky tale about a group of second grade aliens with a terrible, evil teacher: Ms. Moody. The students figure out how to change their situation, but they also decide it wouldn’t be fair not to talk to their teacher before kicking her off the planet. And so we finished with a multilayered story about empowerment, but also about understanding each other’s backgrounds, and thinking about the hidden roots of behavior, including their own.
“That’s great,” you might think, “but how is a story about aliens important to the movement for diverse books?”
And then I would know that you have not yet read their story. :-) This book features a purple octopus with a giant fade, a hot pink snake with a single Jordan Columbia 11, a blue monkey who wears a snapback, and a shapeshifting teacher with dreads made of worms. These writers put themselves on the page, drawing from their own lives and imaginations, not from some idea of what a children’s story should be.
When my group’s illustrator texted me pictures of her character sketches, the authors immediately grabbed my phone out of my hand and started passing it around, thrilled to see their ideas come to life in a professional illustration. “I don’t really like writing,” Destiny told me, “but I had a lot of fun doing this. It’s not just about a teacher or school. People need to know that anything negative can be made positive.”
Books will be released Fall 2015. Pre-order / support the project here.