Book Club for Girls Entering Middle School
We were so lucky to have Karen Day as a guest at my 6th grader’s book club last week. The girls were super excited because they met her last year when she came as a guest author for our meeting on her previous baseball book, No Cream Puffs.
My daughter chose the book and said she wanted her book club to read it even if we weren’t able to get Karen Day to come. I thought it was the perfect book for girls starting Middle School. They also were facing daunting changes like Lucy in A Million Miles from Boston.
I knew that Karen taught a writing workshop at our local library and thought it would be so wonderful to have her do writing exercises with the girls. This is a selfish request because my oldest says that she hates to write. She actually hates to write those formulaic “open response” essays that have been jammed down her throat for the past two years in preparation for the MCAS standardized test.
Creative writing is different though. When she was in summer camp, she took creative writing and loved it. Writing should be like reading or even playing a sport (as Karen pointed out). Practice makes perfect and then it begins to be fun.
I asked Karen to get the girls to talk and write about the changes they are facing. One of their friends in their book club went to a private school. Another girl is at their same middle school but in a different section so they rarely see her. The last girl is a year behind them, so they don’t see her at school anymore. Lots of changes for everyone!
Karen also talked about how she gets her ideas for her books … and she has enough ideas to write about 5599 books or so. She showed the girls her notebooks where she works out characters and plot issues. Her handwriting is so incredibly neat that I actually thought she typed it up, cut it out, and pasted it into the notebook. But no, she just has really perfect penmanship. The idea for Lucy’s annoying neighbor came from her own daughter. It turns out that annoying boys abound where we live!
Superior came from Karen’s graduate school side business. She had a dog walking business that almost covered her graduate school costs and one of the dogs that she took care of inspired made an indelible mark on her.
The next portion was a writing exercise. Karen had an elegant but simple exercise: Write down 5 things you love, 5 things you hate, and 5 things you are scared of. Now choose one and write about it WITHOUT ever disclosing what it is.
There was silence for about five minutes as the girls wrote. Some needed more time. My child squirmed and asked for hers not to be read aloud. The stories were passed into Karen who read them anonymously. This didn’t work as each author happily giggled when her story was read, particularly at the exciting parts.
It was amazing to us all how clear each voice was. Each story was dramatically different from the others, but all were wonderfully descriptive and exciting. Perhaps it was because they all opted to go with something that scared them? Or it was the genius and inspiration of having Karen there. I am thinking the latter!
Karen has both a gift for storytelling and connecting with kids. Maybe this is one and the same? If you are looking for an author visit at your school, I’d highly recommend her. I bet she’s available by Skype also for those who are a Million Miles From Boston.
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BEST #OWNVOICES CHILDREN’S BOOKS: My Favorite Diversity Books for Kids Ages 1-12 is a book that I created to highlight books written by authors who share the same marginalized identity as the characters in their books.