Championing Young Authors
Contributed by Claudine Fernandez July 27, 2017
I believe that every child can and should write. You can teach children as young as seven years old how to become self-published authors.
I believe that children have powerful words to be read by the world.
This June, I embarked on a journey called, “The Young Authors Programme” with five young writers, as they each wrote and illustrated their own children’s book. What emerged from this beautiful journey were these unique and original stories written by children aged 9 to 11:
A young Malay girl takes her revenge on school bullies with her powerful silat moves.
The power of friendship and teamwork in children warriors saves an entire kingdom.
A couple who go on a romantic date is disrupted by a scary encounter.
Two schoolgirls befriend a talking Honey Guide bird who leads them to a rescue mission.
A magical helicopter transports curious children to adventures of a lifetime.
Here are some of my thoughts on the whole process:
1. There Is Incredible Value In Peer Feedback
I began the sessions with a peer review session, where every child would “pitch” their story ideas to the rest. It can be daunting to share your stories (something so personal) with a group of strangers and so when facilitating a peer review session, clear guidelines need to be established.
I explained to the young authors-to-be that we were building a circle of trust, helping one another rather than criticising, being a friend who listens rather than a harsh critic.
When giving feedback to their peers, they always began by stating what they liked about the story first. The benefits that are reaped from peer feedback are manifold. Instead of only listening to what I, the teacher had to say, they gained affirmation from their own peers vis-à-vis constructive feedback on how to improve and refine their stories.
“Your story is so original, I would so buy your book!” quipped one of the young authors encouragingly, as she listened to her peer telling her story. Through this exercise, they discovered what their target audience (children like themselves) would value from their work.
2. Mentorship And Guidance Lends Structure To New Writers
Children need good role models and mentors to guide them and for them to look up to. As part of the programme, the young authors-to-be had the privilege of being mentored by artist, Jamie Koh, and the renowned writer based in Singapore, Balli Kaur Jaswal.
Jamie guided them through a process of developing characters through illustration and the importance of colours and what they symbolise. Their illustrations played a major role in the telling of their stories.
The children had to discern which important events they wanted to illustrate and the best way to do so. One child, in particular, decided to add a unique streak in the hair of her protagonist – modelled after her mother and her protagonist’s best friend was a white bunny.
Balli offered them a unique perspective of being a professional writer. Most, if not all of them, had never been this up close and personal with a writer before. She shared her experience of being a writer since she was a child their age and how it all started with characters that arose from her vivid imagination and her life experiences. She also enhanced the quality of their writing, giving them concrete suggestions on how they could add to or modify certain aspects of the narratives.
3. Building Confidence In Young Writers Is About More Than Just Writing
While it is only natural the children were influenced by books they have read or well-known tales, it is imperative to nurture children to write about their own unique stories. Every child has a unique story to tell – it’s a matter of bringing it out of them and identifying what important messages they would like to say to their audience.
A 9-year-old Chinese student wrote a powerful story about a young Malay girl, wearing a hijab and being discriminated against and bullied in school. I was amazed by her ability to empathise with a completely different individual and to write such an authentic story. In her words, she “wanted to help both the bullies and the victims of bullies”. Her story was inspired by a real life incident of bullying in her school.
There were also unexpected, surprising storylines. The only boy in the group decided to write a romance story based in Singapore but also wanted to add an additional layer by adding in a “ghostly” encounter. It became a story with suspense, hilarity and ambivalence all at once. A young Henry James in the making, perhaps.
Beyond just writing a good story, I also wanted to encourage the children to “give back” to society and recognize that they had the potential to create an impact with their words. I introduced them to three different charities that supported children and invited them to “adopt” a charity. They enthusiastically agreed that the proceeds from the sales of their books would go to their adopted charity. One child has been encouraging everyone to support her adopted charity, World Vision, ever since.
By the end of the journey, I gained as much fruitful insight and experience as these young authors did. It is my sincere hope that these children and other children continue to write, as the world would be better for it.
To support these young authors who live in Singapore, please visit the Artistic Strategies website.