Friday, July 10, 2009

Modeling Writing


In my former life as a professional mom, I was often perplexed by how little nonfiction of the essay and memoir variety my kids read in elementary school. This was a big problem in my mind because they were frequently asked to write essays and sometimes even about themselves. Yet as far as I could tell, they had nothing to model their writing upon. Connecticut had standardized testing before anyone had ever heard of No Child Left Behind, and the writing portion of those tests didn't involve novels, it involved multiple paragraph essays. The Gauthier kids' teachers scrambled to provide instruction, but how much easier it would have been for them "to get it" if they ever read examples of what it was they were supposed "to get."

I used to spend my time hunting for essays for my kids to read. By the time they were in sixth grade, I was passing them some of Joel Stein's Time Magazine essays. You know, his "self-focused humor column". Come on. He used thesis statements and topic sentences.

What I really wanted was Jon Scieszka's Knucklehead. But it wasn't available then. Scieszka's memoir of "Growing Up Scieszka" is filled with short, readable chapters about his life as a child. (I'm not going to make much of the fact that he was a boy child, because I think girls will enjoy this book, too.) And while I didn't notice much in the way of thesis statements and topic sentences, I did see a lot of material that could make child readers think, "Hey! I could do this! I could write about the strange books I have to read at school. I could write about my grandparents. I could write about Halloween, my siblings' injuries, things I've bought, games I've played" and about thirty-one other subjects since Scieszka includes thirty-eight chapters.

Coming up with material is hard for a lot of kids. Knucklehead could provide inspiration for some of them. After all, learning to write will come a whole lot easier if you have something to write about.

Training Report: You haven't seen one of these in a long time, have you? At the beginning of the week I found a journal to which I could submit the essay I spent so much time on this summer. And I submitted it.

Essays, which we were discussing in this post, anyway, are kind of problematic. You feel this overwhelming need to express yourself about something that has happened to you that you think has some connection to the greater world, to humankind, and then what do you do with it? It's not easy to find potential markets for some of these personal essays. For instance, earlier this week I did a rough draft of what might be called a flash essay about washing windows. What am I going to do with that?

A writer could, of course, write essays that publications are actually looking for. I just read today that Drunken Boat is looking for 1000 word or less "nonfiction perspectives from around the world on the effect of the global economic crisis." The writing prompt becomes more specific, and I'm sure someone could do a personal essay with it. But the phrase "global economic crisis" is freaking me out.

2 comments:

grrlpup said...

You might be interested in Erika Dreifus' ebook of paying essay markets. I haven't read more than the preview, but I like her free newsletter.

gail said...

Why thank you. I'll look her up.