Wednesday, May 25, 2005

What I Learned in First Grade

This week I visited a first grade class at the Elmer Thienes/Mary Hall School that was getting ready for an "Author Day" presentation for their parents. I was invited to attend the presentation, and I went in a couple of days earlier to hear all the books that had been created for the big day. I came away with all kinds of thoughts.

First: Almost everyone one of these kids wrote a nonfiction book. I saw "memoirs" about birthday parties and shopping trips. I saw what you might call mixed genres--memoirs mixed with travel literature and memoirs mixed with sports literature. What I found so incredibly interesting is that more nonfiction than fiction is published in this country. Presumably, people prefer reading nonfiction over fiction. And these young writers seemed to reflect this reality.

When I brought up this point with them, one boy (who wrote quite a nice piece about his vacation with incredible illustrations) said that more kids wrote nonfiction than fiction because kids had trouble making things up. I think he may have a point there. Certainly back when I used to volunteer working with young writers I found that many of them seemed to hit a brick wall when it came time to generate ideas.

Second: Today while I was out in the hall with the parents waiting for "Author Day" to begin, I realized that next week is Book Expo America. Publishers show off their new books to booksellers, librarians, educators, and, according to what I've heard, anyone who can wrangle a ticket (it's not open to the general public). Well, BEA is held every year. And lots of classes have "Author Days" or "Author Teas" every spring. So I was thinking, wouldn't it be cool to coordinate elementary school "Author Days" with Book Expo America? They could be held at the same time and the kids could feel they were part of a big writers' event. Teachers could register with Book Expo America ahead of time and get posters for their classrooms or bookmarks/postcards/whatever you promoting new books. It would be good for the kids and good for the publishers and writers.

Third: After the first grade authors read their new works, there was a reception. I am always lame at receptions so I picked up a book called When Pigasso Met Mootisse by Nina Laden. I love art books for kids when they are clever and/or witty and don't cram education down their readers' throats. This one absolutely met all my requirements.

I've been told that the author, Nina Laden, is very popular with this particular class. I'd never heard of her. Obviously, first graders have something to teach us.

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