While parents like me crowded into tightly packed rows of kid-sized chairs, the Little Supervisor and her fellow second graders gathered in wriggly groups on the classroom’s colorful area rug. The occasion for their gap-toothed grins, excited expressions, and carefully combed hair? Their class publishing party, where they soon would have the chance to share their original stories with moms, dads, and fidgety younger siblings.
But this party had a twist. Before they stood behind their desks to read aloud their mysteries, travelogues, or fairy tales, these seven- and eight-year-olds had to do something that most published adult writers fear: Speak publicly to the crowd about their work.
One by one, the students got up from their spots on the carpet, taking a gargantuan-seeming handheld black microphone from the previous speaker. In the endearing, fleeting lisp of pre-tweens who are still losing their baby teeth, they introduced themselves, explained their chosen pieces, and what they liked about writing.
As a parent, I thought the presentation was—to use a favorite expression here at Chez Books and Bicycles—frighteningly cute. The Little Supervisor, who has borrowed seemingly every Rainbow Magic fairy book in the school library, said her favorite piece that she’d written was “A Fairy Good Time,” about the time she and her little sister discovered Lizzie the Snow Day Fairy on their windowsill. Why? “Because I love fairies and I believe in fairies,” she said, and I felt my heart crack, just a little, at her quiet declaration of faith in those magical creatures and the power of imagination in a child’s life.
What I didn’t expect was that the journalist in me was similarly enchanted. My daughter said she liked writing because you could either make it up or it could be real, which I thought was a pretty good summary by a 7-year-old of the appeal of fiction and nonfiction to writers and readers. One child said he enjoyed writing because it made him feel free, and I thought, “Yes.”
I left the classroom that morning full of appreciation for my child’s school. We ask so much of our schools today, from teaching our kids how to avoid substance abuse and recognize bullying to racking up college credits in high school and learning economic principles in grade school. (Think I’m joking? Check out the Virginia Standards of Learning.) But as I listened to the Little Supervisor and her classmates, I realized that her teacher and her school had gone beyond the state-mandated writing requirements to teach the most important lesson of all: Write from the heart.