Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Point of View is Child’s Play

By Sandra Elzie

I thought I’d write today about a recent experience I had in sharing about writing,

My friend, Charlotte Tyson, is a 3rd grade teacher at Stockbridge Elementary School and since they have been studying creative writing, she asked if I would be willing to come talk to her class. I’m always willing to try new things and anyone will attest to the fact that I love to talk with people (even miniature ones) about writing, so I agreed.

I started out with a plan…a list of things I wanted to cover that I e-mailed to Charlotte ahead of time to get her input. When she told me that they had already been studying all these things and my talk would be a good refresher, I was impressed. No one ever taught me at ten years old about Point of View, tone and these types of writing elements. I seem to recall learning about using the five senses, but that’s about it.

What a fun experience! I sat in a chair with 19 youngsters sitting around me on the floor, eager to hear what a real, live published author had to say.

They were polite and attentive, raising their hands to ask questions and waiting their turn. When I asked for a volunteer to be a worm and one to be a bird, about 17 hands shot up…even to be a worm! I used an illustration of a worm coming out of his hole in the ground and turning his face to the warm sun, but when he opens his eyes, he sees the bird above him on the tree branch looking down at him. Then I explained that the bird had just landed on the limb and was very hungry. The question for each child…sorry, I mean, for the worm and the bird, was, “As a worm, what are you thinking when you see the bird?” What was the worm’s answer? “Frightened and I want to go back in my hole.” And what did the bird think when she saw the worm? “Breakfast!” was the bird’s answer. There you have Point of View as explained by 3rd graders.

So what does this discussion have to do with us as readers and writers? I think maybe we spend so much time working and talking with our fellow writers and dealing in the adult world that we sometimes forget that there are a lot of young people out there who are the up and coming generations of readers and writers. We need to encourage them to read more and to be creative in their thinking and in their writing. I think we also need to encourage them to think big.

I took a printed manuscript of almost 60,000 words (recycled from last year’s Finish The Book Contest) and watched their eyes widen in surprise. Wouldn’t it be exciting to share your love of writing with a child and someday have that child tell you that their quest to write and be published began the day they met you? Wow!

So, if you’ve had opportunities to share your love of reading or writing with young people, tell us about it. And for those who write, how old were you when the writing bug bit you?


Marilyn Baron said...

This is a great post. Yes, I wish someone would have explained Point of View when I was that age.

I think it's wonderful to get young people started reading and writing as early as possible. I started writing when I was in third grade. I got a poem published in one of those magazines you used to read in a dentist's office.

But the earliest real writing experience I remember was in 4th grade when I wrote a story called "East West Island" and featured all my classmates as characters in the book. My teacher read the book in installments each day in class and they all enjoyed being part of the book. That professor, Mr. Provisero, was the one who first nurtured my interest in writing and I still have the letter he wrote me (somewhere in my house)
encouraging me to pursue writing as a career and predicting one day I would be a published writer. He died very young, but his words have stayed with me. I'll bet one day one of those students will look back on the experience in that class, Sandy, and have you to thank for turning their life in the
"Write Direction."

Marilyn Baron

Tami Brothers said...

Both Sandy's story and Marilyn's resonated with me. I totally felt the same way Marilyn did when I was young. I just tried to squash it because in the small town I was from, it just didn't seem practical.

I remember an author coming to my school for an assembly, but we didn't get to talk to them in a classroom setting. I wonder now if I had, maybe I would have been braver? Not sure.

I love that you went to the school. My son is doing something similiar in his own school and I always felt like I needed to actually be published before I had anything relevant to say to them. Maybe I should rethink this idea. They might actually be inspired by someone trying to achieve their dream as much as by someone who has made it.

Hhhhmmmm. Thoughts to ponder.

Great post!!!


Anonymous said...

Sandy, what a fun experience with the students!!!

My first "book" was written in 2nd grade. My mother helped me bind it in a folder and illustrated it with line drawings that I colored. It's called Winaker and the Animals (Winaker is an evil black cat who wants to turn their happy barn yard into a haunted swamp). I actually wrote out a copyright page (listing the publisher as Tanya&Mom Co) and a dedication--I kept it for laughs, but my kids routinely ask for it as a bedtime story.

My mother called me inkspot from elementary school to college because I always had a spiral notebook with me and pens in my pocket that tended to eventually stain both my hands and clothes.


PS I strongly advocate getting kids excited about books and have found that most of the kids I know respond to humor. For 3-7 yr olds, I like the "Pigeon" and "Knuffle Bunny" books by Mo Willems. For kids 6 and up (or whatever age they're willing to sit still for a chapter book with few if any pictures), the old Peter and Fudge books by Judy Blume are often a hit. The first one is Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. Or for more colorful and visually stimulating chapter books, there's the more recent Geronimo Stilton books about a mouse who runs a newspaper on Mouse Island and processes most of his emotional reactions in terms of cheese or his whiskers. For elementary kids who like a touch of spooky, the classic Bunnicula books are also fun.

Anna Steffl said...

I kept my writing, illustrations, maps (fantasy stuff, you know), and dictionaries of make-believe languages pretty much to myself. My competitive younger sister was sure to tease me about it. And I had the good sense to know that it wouldn't interest my mom--HQ's best customer. Later, God knows why, I showed her a real manuscript. She read a couple pages and asked why I didn't write stuff people want to read...like some of the stories from HER life. It was all meant very well, and I love hearing her stories...she's not one of Nicki's secretive relatives--she's tells her stories to anyone and everyone. They're great stories, but they're not mine.

I should have read my stories to my dad. Maybe he wouldn't have liked them, but he'd have undoubtedly listened to them all. He listened to every dang research paper I wrote and made me feel good about those! Even bad fiction has to be better than a research paper on Heart of Darkness.

I did get an awful story publish in mimeographed form in high school--without trying. Based on my killer essay writing ability, I was one of four students selected to enter a writing contest. I didn't realize what an honor that was back then. I went to a huge high school with some of the smartest kids in the city. My story wasn't anything near and dear to my heart -- just a lame action story about kids finding treasure. The other writers wrote about their grandma dying or some such "worthy" topic that seems the epitome of drama to a highschooler. Not that I dismiss the emotional impact of that, but if I was a judge, I think I'd cringe at having to read yet another one of those. Yet, they were going for the heart and I wasn't ready to go there. I'm a private person. But, I'm getting a little less so, as evidenced by my blurting all this on a blog. Please send me a bill for therapy services rendered.

Anyway, you're doing a great service, Sandy. Kids need to know that real people write stories.I never knew a writer when I was a kid...maybe that would have made all the difference.

Sandy Elzie said...

Hi Ladies,

Thanks for the nice comments.

Marilyn, first of all, congrats on your early-age success. That's a neat story. At that age I had dreams, but no success to propel me foreward.

I think I had Mr. Provisero's evil twin for a teacher my Senior year in highschool. He told me I couldn't write and gave me a "D". He said I didn't get the point of the political issue that I had to write about. Actually, looking back at it, I realize he was just on the opposite side of the fence.
So rasberries to Mr. Nielson. (g)

Tami, Yes, yes, volunteer to speak at your son's school! Unpublished writers have a lot of good things to tell children, starting with Never, Never give up on your dream.


Thanks for dropping by today. What a neat mother you had! I had a mother like that also. (She helped a bunch of us finish our Senior float for homecoming. She's even in my Senior yearbook...to her horror it was from the rear...but she was stuffing toilet paper squares into chicken wire to help us get the float finished in time.)

Great list of children's books. I've read some of them to my kids or grandkids and I think grandma enjoyed them as much as the youngsters.


The Writers Canvas said...

Hey Sandy,

Hmm...I don't remember learning about POV in school either. What a cool experience you describe, though! Must have been rewarding.

The writing bug hit me with journaling when I was 12. I have every day between age 12 and 18 written down. It then came and went for awhile, and I wrote short stories for some time. Now the novel bug has bitten me, so that's where I am!

I remember seeing an interview with actress Jamie Lee Curtis. She wrote a paper in elementary school from the POV of a flea on Paul Revere's horse and won some kind of school prize. That's the first thing I think of when considering unique POV.

Good post! Thx!

Cinthia Hamer said...

Great blog, Sandy!

I was making stories up in my head--and telling them to anyone and everyone around me, whether they wanted to hear them or not! LOL!

Once I learned to read (age 3) and write (age 5), I quickly figured out that I could put my stories on paper. I actually wrote my first novel in a 3" binder at the age of 10. I dragged that binder with me everywhere and wrote every chance I got. I wish I still had that story!

I just wish I'd known about POV, GMC and character arcs back then. I might be published by now! :-)

Nicki Salcedo said...

Sandy, your post gave me chills! Those kids were so lucky to have you visit and share with them. You analogogy of bird and worm should be used in even the most advanced POV workshop.

Knuffle Bunny is our personal favorite these days. There is much hysterical laughter in our house when we read it!

Sandy Elzie said...

Hi Ladies,
Thanks for taking time to visit and comment today.

Anna, Some people just don't understand or recognize genius in the rough (g) Keep telling YOUR story--that's very important.

Elaine, Wow! A flea and I thought a worm was interesting. What a great example. Remember the movie, Honey I Shrunk The Kids? Great POV there.


My first full-length (probably 25 pages front & back) story was also in a binder. Probably why Mom still had it so many years later. It's amazing what a person finds when his/her parent passes away and you go through the things they kept, the things they felt were important.

Nicki, I haven't read Knuffle Bunny, but I can definitely imagine the hysterical laughter of your three angels. (They are soooo cute)


CiCi Barnes said...

Good morning.

What an inspiring post, Sandy. I'm glad to hear young children getting the writing bug, or should I say, worm. You did a great service to those young people.

My first successful encounter of writing was a fourth grade story about Halloween. I won the contest, but don't remember what I won. After that, I turned more to numbers, gave my English teachers fits, and became a math teacher. The only other success in writing was my Senior term paper on Gone With the Wind. I received an A+ from a college prof. It still didn't keep me from turning to numbers.

Today, as a retired math teacher, I've returned to words. Maybe I'll prove you're never too old to learn something new.


Sandy Elzie said...


As one of the "older" group in this Blog and even in GRW, for that matter, I KNOW age has nothing to do with being able to write and ole dogs can definitely learn new tricks. Good for you hanging in there and as my daughter said once, Mother, you're reinventing yourself...trying something new & different than Accounting.


Sally Kilpatrick said...

Thanks for a great post, Sandy! I know I was writing little stories in elementary school, especially those stories that use your spelling words. I had some doosies with those. I got "serious" in middle school and high school with soap operas and sprawling epics.

I agree with Tanya about books. Let me add an old favorite, Mrs. Piggle Wiggle for first grade and up. We're going to start Pippi Longstocking, Mr. Popper's Penguins, and the Westing Game next.

For the little ones I love the Pigeon books, and my preschoolers loved If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, Silly Sally(one of my favorites), Is Your Mama and Llama?, and Sam's Cookie.

For the big kids, my teenaged students, they were always fascinated that anyone would write a book when they didn't have to. I once showed them my 380 page manuscript just to show them what they could accomplish.

What wonderful food for thought today!

Sandy Elzie said...

Hi Sally,

Aren't kids wonderful? (well, most days, anyway) Our family was on a 3-week vacation, when I was about nine, traveling from the east coast to the west and back. I took 3 thick books with me froom the library, but when I finished those, I started writing. My bother thought I was crazy. Writing when I could look at all that beautiful scenery? Each to their own, my parents always said.

Thanks for sharing.


Susan May said...

I wish more teachers had the insight and time to invite writers into their rooms. I sub at a high school and I have yet to be invited to share my knowledge with an english class. In their defence their time is so tight that they don't have much left to bring in people, or I could just be me! Great post Sandy.

Tammy Schubert said...

Your work with the children is very exciting. I am a strong supporter of getting kids into books. My fondest memory is going to the library every other week with my mom to pick out my very own books to read.

In all the literature and classes I took, I don't remember ever talking about point of view. You would think the teachers would have pointed that out.

Sandy Elzie said...

Hi susan, I agree that more writers should be invited to speak to schools. You never know what might spark a child's interest and maybe swing their dreams, goals and future in a more positive way.

Tammy, You have some of the same memories as I have about picking out my own library books. Where I lived in N.C., during the summer the Book-mobile came around twice a month and we could take out books. It was a day I looked forward to...had it red-circled on the calendar...just so I could get more to read. Great memories.


Dianna Love said...

Sandy - So glad you not only visited the school but posted on this. Kudos on doing something away from our usual daily grind and giving those kids a real treat.

I'm currently working with a large school district on a special program for students I can’t go into right now (and don’t want to fill the blog with details), but it’s to spark that kind of interest in writing – which kindles more interest in reading. If this works out, I hope it will open even more doors for authors to connect with students.

What you did on your own – and with elementary children – is exactly what is needed and so appreciate in the schools. Loved your post. Just made me smile and I’m sending the link to some elementary school teachers to check it out.

J Perry Stone said...

My ears are ringing, Sandy! This past week, I went into my son's 3rd grade class to teach the personal narrative.

I talked to them about what I call the plot swoosh (the shape of plot as it builds towards climax then drops down to resolution).

They got it immediately, could clearly see the difference between a narrative consisting of a list of likes and dislikes (no swoosh to that plot. Straight line, more like) and one that had a climax and told a story. I even wrote a personal narrative so they could help me pick out all the parts of plot within it.

So now that I've read your post (and holy mackerel, what a creative way to illustrate POV with birds and worms!), I'm beginning to fantasize about a group of us traveling around to different schools, teaching a writing workshop for kids. How amazing would that be? Because, as sad as it is for me to say this, I don't think anyone but a writer can effectively teach writing, and with that last statement, I've just narrowed down the list of capable writing teachers wihtin the school systems to about 3.


J Perry Stone said...

As for when the writing bug first hit me, at three I told my mom I wanted to be a shepherd (too many Bible stories, I guess). When she told me that might not be the most viable occupation--what she really said was, "sheep stink"--I said, "Then I want to write books."

There is something so blessed about always having known your purpose in life.

Debbie Kaufman said...

I remember writing poetry as a young child, maybe 8 or 9, and then a short story when I was about 10. My fourth grade short story was a tale of escape from communist China down the Yangtze River. Who knew I later go there and my 4th child would come from there?

Ana Aragón said...

I had a similar experience a couple of weeks ago when I spoke at a middle school. At that age, they're more interested in what an author makes (I suggested they not give up their day job), and the process of getting published. For fifty minutes I had the undivided attention of 75 or so middle schoolers. When my kids were that age, I'd have given my right arm for 3 minutes of undivided attention!

You are so right. I got the most lovely thank you letters a week later, some saying that they'd never thought about writing a book but now that they knew a "real" author, they wanted to write their own stories!

By the way, I used my real name and didn't give them my pseudonym...just in case!


Sandy Elzie said...

Hi Ladies,

Diana, Thank you so much for dropping by and commenting. I don't know what you have up your sleeve for the schools/kids, but I'm sure it'll be personal, worthwhile and fantastic...just like your Break Into Fiction class I attended. If I can help, yell.

J, A group of us going around teaching at schools? Wow, that's thinking out of the box. How about groups of homeschooled kids? As to the worm & bird, we also discussed the three little pigs and the wolf. What were the 3 pigs thinking when the wolf was huffing and puffing and what was the wolf thinking when the pigs got so upset when he was only out of breath from running from his house to theirs. All in your POV.


I'm blown away that you wrote about China at 10-years old and then went there several times to help people adopt children...including yourself! It's almost like God gave you a foreshadowing of your future or maybe it was self-fullfilling prophecy. Humm, I'll have to think on that one a little. (g)


Aren't kids the greatest? Yes, asking how much you make isn't reserved to the older kids, one of the 3rd graders asked also. Guess it's a sign of our economic times.


Carol Burnside said...

I'm late getting here, but enjoyed the post. What a fun day you must have had!