Thursday, October 1, 2009

Talking to Children. And Spicy Corn Muffins

A School Girl, 1891--Sir George Clausen (1853-1944)Tonight I’m talking to my daughter’s Brownie troop about writing.

I usually talk to children and teens/preteens a quarter as much as I talk to adults.

This does make sense—I don’t write books for children, after all. But I do really like to encourage them to write. I remember how an advertising agent came by my 3rd grade class to talk about creative jobs. She brought in her own chalk and it was wildly colored stuff—nothing like what my teacher had. She was so excited about writing copy and inventing ad campaigns that her enthusiasm was contagious. I ended up taking an advertising course in college which helped me from time to time with the magazines I worked for.

I always remember her excitement when she spoke to my class and I try to reproduce it when I talk with children.

Things that are different about talking to children:

They pay closer attention than most adults.

They ask questions in the middle of your talk. You need to tell them at the very start that each person will have a chance to ask questions at the end.

You may need to remind them more than once that you’ll take questions at the end.

They are genuinely more creative than we are. This comes out in everything they do and say—whether they’re talking about their dreams, the monsters under their beds, or the fanciful but not-quite-true event they’re telling you about. I wasn’t prepared for it the first time I went in and the creativity was overwhelming---and exciting.

They need more graphics and physical examples than adults. Bring your book to hold up. Bring your WIPs—the messier the better. Bring any outlines you might have. Show the before and after.

A Few Tips:

Ask the teacher what they’re working on, writing-wise, when you’re preparing to talk. Most kids in elementary school will be working on non-fiction pieces until at least 4th grade.

Make sure that if you incorporate some teaching into your talk that it corresponds exactly with what the teacher is teaching. Don’t want to un-teach anything and get on the teacher’s bad side.

I write murder mysteries, but when I’m talking to small children, I write “detective stories.” When they ask what my book is about, I tell them it’s about a detective who figures out puzzles.

Middle schoolers, on the other hand, are more interested in any blood and gore—not that my books have any. But they’re definitely a different audience. I focus more on my research and the information I get from police, etc.

Handouts are helpful tools for the kids. I’ll put clip art on mine, and put three major points of my talk on the handout. Then I’ll have my book info for any curious parents who end up with the handout later at home.

And….it’s Thursday morning! If you like some zest in your bread, head over to Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen for a spicy corn muffin.