the students of Rockdale, Texas

Last weekend I visited Rockdale Elementary School and, as I’ve told y’all before, visiting students is one of the highlights of my writing career. Not to mimic the d-bags of the ‘50s and ‘60s by comparing myself to Holden Caulfield, but I have to say that I understood what he meant when he said that little kids knocked him out.

Those little kids knocked me out. They were so smart, and they had such good manners, and they said such funny things. And, as I’ve said before, little kids make a good audience because they usually don’t yet know how to mask their reactions, so you can see their minds working and opening up as you talk with them, just as if their foreheads were made of Saran Wrap. “OMG,” you can see them thinking for the very first time, “Writing is a viable potential career option for me… although maybe not the most profitable one, if this lady’s outfit is anything to go by….”

I always want to tell y’all little anecdotes about the various kids, but then I stop myself, because it kind of feels like violating their privacy. You know? It’s not like when I meet other writers or artists, and they obviously have work to promote. Little kids are private citizens in every sense of the phrase, aren’t they?

So I’ll just say, with all names changed to protect the innocent, that we talked about possible careers, including writing, illustrating, translating and publishing. Because my kids’ book is written in English and Spanish, and was therefore translated, and these kids were a little young to know the definition of translate. So we defined the jobs and then talked about what skills you’d have to have to do each of them. And it was obvious to me that some of the bilingual kids in the class hadn’t yet realized what an asset it was to be bilingual. And just seeing the realization dawn on their faces was a beautiful thing. In one class, one of the girls called out, “Johnny speaks Spanish, I think. So Johnny could be a translator right now!” And the other kids were like, “Oh, yeah. That’s true!” And they turned and looked at Johnny, and he said nothing in response and modestly pretending to be deep in thought. But he sat up straighter. That was all – he sat up straighter. Seeing him do that cracked me up, and made my eyes mist up a little, too.

One little girl noted, before the reading even started, that the book was bilingual. She told me she wanted to learn Spanish and other languages, too, if possible. Her eyes lit up at the definition of translate, and I totally saw her future flash before my eyes. She was wearing a set of headphones and a classic navy suit that complimented her freckles, and she was translating for the United Nations. I could see it clear as day.

I have little mini-lessons that I go through as we read the book – phrase repetition, counting by twos, cause and effect – and sometimes it takes the kids a while to catch on. But sometimes the kids will say the lesson before we even start reading (“Can I see the book we’re gonna read? Oh, her sister’s two years older than her. So she gets older on every page, but her sister’s always older and gets to do better stuff,”) and that always cracks me up. I’m like, “Man, y’all are some smart whippersnappers.” Then I say, “Get off my lawn!”

No, just kidding. I never say that, because we’re always in the library.

But, yeah. It’s fun. It’s good, reading to the children.

Be Sociable, Share!
Posted in writing on 03/11/2009 11:19 am

Leave a Reply

Comments are closed.