As they trooped into the classroom for their creative writing class last week, I heard one boy say to another, “today a real author is coming to our class.”
“She’s already come!” Several interested glances were thrown in my direction.
Many young readers are intrigued when they hear that I am a writer by profession, and they look at me with unabashed curiosity. Since most of their parents are probably doctors, engineers, chartered accountants or other hard working professionals, a person who spends her whole life making up stories about imaginary characters must seem quite an oddball to them. So, I usually get a lot of questions about what it’s like to be a writer. Last week I was asked why I decided to become a writer, and which my favourite book was, among the ones I’ve written. But none of these questions could top the one I was asked at a ‘Meet the Author’, session at a school some months ago. A little boy had just bought one of my books, and after I had signed it for him, he stared at the pile of books I had written, stacked up neatly on the desk.
“Did you really write all these books?” he asked incredulously.
“Yes,” I murmured quietly, uncertain where this was going. He looked me directly, and the flash of sympathy in his eyes was unmistakable.
“Boy,” he said feelingly, rubbing his own little wrist. “How your hand must hurt!”
In my interactions with them, I’ve noticed that children absorb, and notice many more things than adults do. During a creative writing class that I conducted one summer at a bungalow with a lovely garden, I noticed a charming statue of an angel nestled among the plants. On an impulse, I told my students to write a story that included the angel, and pointed out a tree and a wall that also had to figure in the story. I allowed the children to go out of the classroom, to have a closer look at the angel and the tree.
“What about the snail?” they asked me when they were back in their seats. “Do we have to put him in our story as well?”
I was puzzled. “I don’t see a snail anywhere,” I murmured, nonplussed. “Where is the snail?” This was greeted with excited shrieks. “He’s on the tree!” We all trooped out of the classroom again, and when I bent my head to the eye level of a seven year old, I spotted a large brown garden snail slithering up the tree trunk leisurely, leaving a silvery trail behind him. The snail that had craftily hidden himself from my view was the star of the stories that were written that day!
When I was teaching the children how to create a character, one of the exercises I gave them was to write a character sketch of themselves when they were sixty years old. There was a little silence after I announced this, and I quickly realized that when you are seven years old, the complexities of being sixty years old are very difficult to fathom. So, I asked some of the children to describe their grandparents, hoping that this would throw up some ideas that they could build upon. One little girl raised her hand, and said her great grandmother who was a hundred years old, lived with them. She explained that the elderly lady who was quite unwell, had no teeth, and had to be force-fed a liquid diet through a tube. The rest of the class listened to this commentary in silence, and there were no comments or further questions on this subject. However, when I read the submissions that were handed in to me, I realized what an impact the little girl’s brief account of her great grandmother had made. Almost every child had written that at the age of sixty, he or she would have strong teeth, and would be able to eat many different kinds of food. Some had even included a detailed list of the food items they would determinedly chomp at the age of sixty!
When I was teaching the class how to create an imaginary monster, the suggestions on the attributes that a monster could have, came thick and fast. But one little girl really amused me with her query. With a long suffering expression she asked me, “Can I make my little brother the monster?”
Another time, when I was teaching the same class, I told the children that to make their writing more descriptive and effective, they should try to expand their vocabulary, instead of using the same, common words repeatedly. I gave them an exercise on using synonyms, and as we went over the words orally, I asked my students to give me another word that meant ‘evil,’ after telling them to avoid words that are over used, like ‘bad’ and ‘mean.’ After a few minutes, one little girl put up her hand. “I know a word that means evil,” she said happily with a satisfied smile. “It’s “politician.”