Monday, May 10, 2010

What I Learned at the NJ Young Author’s Conference.

The New Jersey Young Authors Conference is a chance for elementary school students (aka the “young authors”) to talk with us, um, older authors.  This year, I was thrilled that I was invited to participate.

Since my presentation was for young writers, I came up with ten rules for writing and had the first letter of each rule spell out the expression “work it out”.  A friend reminded me that I had come up with an “acrostic” device.  Cool. Right?  I was all set to try it out.

The room was crowded -- packed with fourth graders and their parents. But I was ready. I had my props ( slinkies, a kickball, a July 20, 1969 newspaper) and of course, I had my trusty PowerPoint presentation. 

Sometimes when I get nervous, I forget words (admittedly, not a good trait for either a writer or a speaker).  The moment my school librarian host introduces me, the word “acrostic” slips away.

I wonder what will happen when I get to the “Work it Out” part of my presentation, and I try to recall as many multi-syllabic “a” words as I can.

Agnostic. Anagrammatic. Achromatic.

The intro is over. It's my turn. I begin talking about my book. But I’m thinking…

Acoustic.  Acetic.

I’m talking about the importance of stories now.

Anastatic. Anachronistic. Acrobatic.

It’s time to move into the “Rules for Writing”. When “Work It Out” comes up on the PowerPoint, my librarian host writes it lengthwise on easel paper (for the student to fill in the rules).

I am out of “a” words.  There’s nothing left in my brain. So I decide to ask the audience.

“Does anyone know the word for when the first letters in each line form a word or message?”

I look at the parents for help.  Some shrug. A few look away.  I look at the fourth graders. About a dozen hands shoot up.  “Acrostic” they say in unison.

“That’s it!” I say, and I feel saved.  I’m able to move on with the rest of my talk. 

That day, I learned what I already knew. That fourth graders are smart, interested in writing and know some pretty fancy words.


Anonymous said...

Good save! That conference sounds so cool! I would have loved to meet a real live author at that age.

nanmarino said...

Karen, it was such an amazing day. So much fun.

Anna Staniszewski said...

Great story! That's reminds me of the time I went into a sixth-grade classroom to talk about revision. Thinking I was going to stump them, I said: "Can anyone tell me the difference between revising and editing?" It turned out that pretty much everyone in the class could (something most adults definitely wouldn't be able to do). Next time I'll think twice before assuming I can stump a group of kids. :-)

Stephanie J. Blake said...

I can't even imagine getting up in front of people like you do! Funny story!

Christy Raedeke said...

Brilliant save! Speaking in front of adults is one thing, but kids? Eeek! Sounds terrifying.

By the way, I love how engaged your dog is in the story you're reading him! Sendak has such wide appeal...

nanmarino said...

Anna, I agree. Middle graders are a smart bunch. It's hard to stump them.

Stephanie & Christy, This was such a great group of kids and parents that it felt very comfortable talking to them.

Christy, Congrats on your book launch! I can't wait to read your book! You must be thrilled! PS Chi likes Sendak but she's also very fond of Nick Bruel's Bad Kitty books.

cleemckenzie said...

Sweet! When all else fails ask a fourth grader. That's something I'm making a note of. I'm doing a workshop next weekend and these are much younger kids than I'm used to teaching . . . much. Hope teaching talent can stretch to one size fits all, at least for this one time. Wish me luck.

nanmarino said...

Of course I'll wish you luck, but you won't need it. You will be amazing. I suspect you'll enjoy working with younger grades. And when all else fails, ask the audience. :)

Anonymous said...

Sometimes I get stuck talking to kids, and they will fill in the gaps for me. It's amazing what we forget when we're doing public speaking.

nanmarino said...

Medeia, Yes! It is amazing what we forget. That's why I love taking props with me. They help jog the memory.

Nikki said...

Nana - what a fun story! I have a fourth-grader, and he has written me an acrostic poem for Mother's Day pretty much every year. It's become a family joke. I mean, how many words beginning with MOM can you find? He's started getting creative!
I would have loved to hear your talk. Speakers with props are the best.