On Monday this week I visited Newchurch Primary School in Isle of Wight to read our new Jack and Boo’s Wild Wood children’s picture book to a class of 7yos and then get them thinking about making and writing their own stories.
I had never read any of our books to anyone other than my own children – two of the harshest critics ever born – and small groups of children at various book signings. Reading to a class of children sitting on the carpet in front of me, their teacher and classroom assistant sitting behind them, was daunting, but I’m happy to say my nerves were soon quenched by the enthusiasm of youth. They got so involved as I turned the pages, stopping to ask questions about the wildlife illustrated in the book, and eagerly raising hands to win my attention to tell me the right – or wrong – answer.
We had a great discussion about going out into nature and spotting wildlife. I was heartened that most of the children could identify a bluebell and had tasted a wild blackberry. The questions came think and fast. The discussion led onto talking about the writing process and how writing is really all about rewriting, redrafting, until you are happy (some writers are never happy). The copy of Jack and Boo’s Wild Wood I read was a proof copy and had some mistakes, which I got the class to try and identify.Children love to discover adults get things wrong too!
After reading, I showed them how to fold paper into a mini book and on each panel I’d written some basic writing tips to get them started on a simple picture book story. I covered titles, begginings, middles and ends and I was also pleased they all knew about writing good book blurbs on the back cover.
I think I must have confused the children at one point when I told them not to do the title/cover page first, because most writers don’t come up with a title until they’ve written the book, as they don’t know what it’s going to be about yet. One little boy found this most annoying and asked that he must do the title first as he couldn’t start his story without it! It taught me that writing has no rules, just good and bad advice. In the end you have to find your own way.
There was much noise and folding and writing and drawing. Some of the children had immediate ideas about what to write, while others needed some ideas. I told them to use their own experiences and adventures to find something truly original. It must have worked, because, by the end of the session, all the children were deep in thought, writing.
I’d like to say thanks to the teachers and children at Newchurch school. I can report the future is in very safe hands judging by the intelligent children I met.
And if you want to see the finished books and have a go at making one yourself, then come along to Quay Arts, Newport IOW, at the Artists’ Book Fair on Saturday 28th May between 11am and 4pm. I’ll be signing copies of the “old style” Jack and Boo’s Bucket of Treasures, before the new cover version is published this summer – so that’ll make them even more valuable and rare one day. Here’s hoping…