Adventures in reading(s)

Went, by invitation, to a school book fair today. I had so much I wanted to do with them but you know what they say about best laid plans. It wasn’t the right environment, the right chemistry, the right mix for it. It was a good idea but wasn’t quite what I was expecting in the execution.

So, I read a native American folk tale from a book I’ve had since I was about six years old; there are even drawings and writings in my six or seven year old script in the margins… who knows what those’re about. Anyway, the book was a last minute grab on the way out of the house. It has lots of stories and writing exercises for kids. I loved it as a child. It is well worn but treasured. On this occasion, it was a Godsend because a quick read of the room and I knew that I had to scrap my plans. I picked ‘the fire bringer’ tale and put as much excitement into the reading as I could though I hadn’t prepped for it. I interjected questions and asides to make sure they were alert and listening…maybe about 75 percent of them were…the rest weren’t going to be, no matter what I read…I’d lose another 20 or 25 percent before the day was done.

After the reading, I decided to do a group writing exercise. It was a big group but we made it around the room with everyone adding something to the story of ‘the water bringer’ (riffing on the whole fire bringer scenario)…was impressed that some were eager to add even more than was required of them and had alternate endings and other scenarios and such…provided insight into who has a very logical mind, a mind for fantasy, a mind for science, an imaginative mind, who was shy, who was confident, and who just didn’t want to be there. Honestly, books didn’t seem to be their thing, period…and my knowledge of tv and film did grease the wheels some times but only so far.

Then I tried to use that exercise to break down the elements of storytelling as I urged them to submit to Wadadli Pen…I didn’t stay but a few moments on that …but I got the feeling one or two might…if something else doesn’t distract them before then. I hope they do.

Then I read from Fish Outta Water. CoverThey loved the pictures and seemed to like the story as well…and when I did a bit of trivia in the middle (guessing a character based solely on description) they got it almost unanimously…yet and all, they were restless and not really into it so we closed off pretty soon after that.

Not my best outing.

And not what I’d planned at all.

It’s hard to anticipate what will work one group to the next. My last three outings I read Ashley Bryan’s Dancing Granny which it’s always easy to get the kids engaged with because of the musicality of it and I also read Fish Outta Water – both went over well; I read Althea Prince’s How the East Pond Got Its Flowers after some moving around exercises like hokey pokey to get them settled – never thought I’d be doing that, but it worked; and then there was today.

I’ve read and spoken at a lot of schools over the years, sometimes it’s a hit, sometimes a miss, and before this year (and Fish Outta Water) I never had any child specific writing …which can be problematic. The teachers want to bring in a local author to, as the principal said today, show them that there are writers among them and hopefully get them excited about reading. They don’t have a budget for it so it’s all voluntary (today was a bust for work pretty much)…but I do it if I can. But if you don’t have the right material, training, and disposition, not to mention the right environment, it can fail to click. I’m a writer who sometimes manages to pull off a good presentation and who has had some good exchanges, in spite of my limitations, when visiting schools.

Today was not the day.

In fact, between this, the ton of kids liming in town and some of the overheard conversations, and the closed ‘til God alone knows when doors of the Public Library such as it is…since a cramped store top isn’t really the place for a public library but it’s all the library Antigua’s known in my lifetime and will have to do ‘til whenever the new public library building that building howmucheeyearsnow get finish, *deep breath*, today was not the day at all.

On the upside, I ran into one of my former Cushion Club kids, a boy who was a Cushion Club regular from the time I started volunteering but who stopped coming like they all seem to around the time he hit secondary school. I heard someone call out “Joanne” and saw this tall handsome young man walking toward me. He didn’t have time for me, of course, just a hi/hello, how’s school sort of exchange, but I felt good after our little chat; like at least some of the efforts haven’t been in vain.

Ah well, tomorrow’s another day.


2 thoughts on “Adventures in reading(s)

  1. Dear Joanne,

    I haven’t written in a long time, perhaps you will not even remember my name, let alone me, from Surinam and that “convention”, but I read you. And I cannot help but say something this time. I also teach, now at the university, but the same challenge is there: is the chemistry going to work? my French husband says, is the mayonnaise going to congeal…he’s talking about home-made mayonnaise…perhaps your family’s clay pots are an analogy too, too much water, too much clay…but I’m out of my “reality” there. Just to say, it’s so fragile, such a “risky business” working with kids…and one hopes so much because one cares so much and knows what difference it might make for them…however, the kid who called out to you, “Joanne”, had to have been touched in an unforgettable way, whatever the “scene”, and that’s what one cannot plan, but one’s conviction carries across beyond all that one says. So bravo…sometimes one walks away feeling very small, very futile, I just heard on the radio a quote from Camus whose hundredth (?) anniversary it is (of his birth), “il ne faut jamais quitter le soleil”…”one must never leave/forget the sun”. So I send this quote to you who are much more in the sun than I, but then you and I know how to read “sun” in many ways and I’m smiling “sun” as I write and remember you!

    Best, Victoria

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