Thursday, July 16, 2009

Summer School

This summer I've had three grandchildren ages ten to sixteen in the house, along with their summer reading lists. I was determined to read all those books with them, and did. The experience will shape my writing from now on.

With the sixteen-year-old I read All Quiet on the Western Front and The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti. He's a challenged reader and struggled with the often arcane figurative language. When I got him to slow down and explained to him (image by image) how the authors were using the imagery he understood. His face lit up and he said, "Oh, I get it."

I'll now work harder to write in a way that will capture the attention of a struggling reader.

The thirteen-year-old put aside Twilight and breezed through To Kill a Mockingbird, A Separate Peace and The House on Mango Street. In the meantime she picked up The Prince, read most of it and said, "This has some good stuff in it." Her school requires her to keep a detailed journal as she reads each book, making note of passages that she feels are important to the story and recording her interpretation.

I now understand the necessity to keep the reader engaged, moving the action along but pausing to emphasize the theme at appropriate points in the novel. More importantly, I will no longer be afraid to use words that might challenge a young reader. How else will they increase their vocabulary?

The ten-year-old had an appetite for just about anything, including Twilight. Encouraging her to read less sophisticated (and scary) books that she could enjoy was the challenge here. If You're Reading This, It's Too Late was her favorite, but she found the 1944 Melendy series equally interesting.

Mystery is important to this age group; how does a writer keep a secret until the end, all the while planting clues that won't give it away?

Thanks to this summer vacation, I'll return to my writing with renewed interest and the determination to create, with a novel, the opportunity for a young mind to travel to a different time and place.


  1. It sounds like you learned some really important writing lessons from your grandchildren, Linda! Kids can teach us so much as writers. I know that my experiences of teaching reluctant readers has completely impacted how I write a story. It just doesn't make sense to waste my time writing the parts that I'm sure they don't want to read. (Even though I spent my own childhood loving long, detailed books by authors like Louisa May Alcott and L.M. Montgomery.)

  2. I'm impressed that you found so much time to read with a bunch of kids around!