Subscribe to SLJ
Practically Paradise
Inside Practically Paradise

Ms Chen, would you tell the author…

I love my students. They know it. They know that I go to elaborate lengths to get new materials for them. Yes, I’ll attend that 5 hour meeting to earn $50 in free books. Yes, I’ll work the Scholastic Warehouse sale as a volunteer to earn books for Book Bingo prizes. Yes, I’ll review this series if you’ll send me the books. 

Now, the students are insisting that I send personal letters to their favorite authors to tell them to hurry up and write more. They also are insisting that I write and ask the authors to explain points, provide background information, and share their inspiration for illustrations. My response, I’ll teach those students to write.

The students love it when I sit down with a stack of books because they never know what’s coming. Maybe I’ll read all of them. Maybe I’ll flash them just one illustration, one poem, or read one paragraph.  Maybe I’ll hijack the students to give me detailed opinions about new books (Hence the guinea pig noses signal) so I can write a review, contact the author, or tell the publisher what I think. Now the students believe every author wants to hear their personal opinion of their book.

Today the students surprised me. While I was reading Aileen Fisher’s poetry in Do Rabbits Have Christmas?, the students insisted on going back through all of the illustrations to see if there were any hidden things like kittens. They love the poem about the kitten and the Christmas tree where the kitten seems to think the tree is there just for her/him. I shared stories of my new kitten KitKat’s first day with our fake tree (see  last year’s post about the Ugliest Tree in America).

KitKat knocked over the tree three times the first day. Fortunately, I know that "Bad Kitty" and hadn’t decorated it yet. The second day I decorated the tree and made sure the tree skirt was in place. My little dog Lucy hid under the skirt for a nap. KitKat sauntered by as if there was no tree there. She checked to see if the coast was clear than reached up to bat the white snowmen styrofoam balls. Immediately Lucy raced out from under the skirt, knocked KitKat end over end, and barked. Marshall (the German Shepherd) came running and chased KitKat down the hall and into my closet. Now the dogs stand guard over the tree. I have come racing upstairs from doing laundry to find both dogs barking and pointing as KitKat curls in the lowest branches for a nap. Maybe they’ll train that cat yet.

When I shared this story, six hands went up as other students had similar stories to tell. We agreed that kittens just love Christmas trees. While I’d moved on to other poems on winter, some students hadn’t. They started pointing out cats hidden in windows and scenes in each book we read. They asked me if I thought the illustrator knew about my KitKat and her adventures since a little gray tabby was in the book. Others insisted that I’d better start writing the author and illustrator so they have more ideas for next year. 

Why do I go on about this? The students believe they, the readers, are an integral part of the story. They believe the authors and illustrators are out there waiting to hear from them. They believe they are part of the creative process. They know they are much more than just readers.