Much to my surprise, I was asked to be an ambassador for the Premier’s Reading Challenge this year. Last week was Education Week and I found myself speaking at three schools to audiences comprising three Grade 5/6 classes, one Grade 6 class and a Year 8 class.
I don’t plug Game as Ned to primary school kids (because it contains some non-graphic violence and sexual references). I do talk about reporting for newspapers and other creative writing projects I’m tackling, including two YA stories and an idea for a children’s picture book. Without fail, the highlight for the kids is when I read to them Kate Stone’s Glasses, which I wrote back in Grade 4.
It’s not a great story but kids love it. I’m guessing that’s because it’s not that different to what they’re writing – and possibly shows that if they keep on reading and writing they could end up an author too. (Or perhaps I’m over-romanticising and it’s just they prefer something I wrote more than 30 years ago to what I’m doing now… which doesn’t really bear thinking about.)
Anyway, here are some of the exchanges from the previous week:
Grade 5/6-er: “I think you should have the magic glasses story published.”
Another Grade 5/6-er: “I think you should merge your (children’s book) idea with the magic glasses story. That would be better.”
Me to a classroom of grade 5/6s: “I can’t really recommend Game as Ned to you because it contains … some violence.”
Response from the front row: “Ohhhhh. But we love violence!”
Comment from a Grade 6 student: “I think you were destined to become an author when you wrote that story in Grade 4.”
Me: “Wow… Thanks.”
Me to Yr 8 students: “How many of you have read a book from the Twilight series?” Half the students in the auditorium stick their hands up.
Me: “OK. I’m going to set some homework. When you get home I want you to take those books and put them in the bin…” (the other half cheer raucously,) “and then read books by Australian authors instead.” (More cheers.)
Me: “OK, OK, I’m joking. As an ambassador I’m glad you’re reading. Read whatever you like. Books help us understand what we have in common beneath our skin – even if it is vampire blood.”
Thank you speech from a Grade 6 student: “I thank you for visiting and contributing.”