There’s a sweet little book called The Year of Miss Agnes, by Kirkpatrick Hill, about a teacher who moves to a remote part of Alaska to teach in a one-room schoolhouse (back in the late 1940’s). The families in the area rely on the fishing industry, and previous teachers were annoyed by the constant smell of fish on the children and their inability to relate to simple American reading primers like Dick and Jane. The children are far behind in their academic skills and have little hope that a new teacher will be different.
But Miss Agnes is different. She embraces the culture and the children from the get-go, hanging their artwork on the walls, reading them stories they’ve never heard before like Robin Hood, and best of all, she writes them stories they can relate to–stories about the children themselves and their families!
This book will appeal to children from about second grade through sixth, and I highly recommend it to aspiring and practicing teachers. The lengths Miss Agnes goes for her students and their families is an inspirational model for us all.
It inspired me to write for my students and my own children. Right now, I teach college students, but my son’s teachers have been so gracious as to allow me to volunteer in his elementary classrooms. I’ve been able to do some extension activities with his small reading group the past two years. I got to know the kids pretty well, and as an end-of-school gift, I decided to write a story about them. The first time I did it, with his first grade group of five crazy boys, I was shocked that right after I gave them the little books I wrote them, they were silent. Silence was not a normal characteristic of our group! But they were reading, drinking it in, exclaiming when they came to their own names in the short story.
This year, I almost didn’t do a story for his (totally different) group. I didn’t feel like I was “on my game” most of the year, as I had a baby in November, and we only met once a week. A few weeks back, the group had started reading Friendship According to Humphrey, by Betty G. Birney, with their teacher. I had seen the Humphrey books and always thought they looked cute, but hadn’t read one till now. It was so cute. I loved how the story was told from the class hamster’s perspective. These books will appeal to about second through fifth grades.
At the last minute, I decided to go ahead and write them a story, using the Humphrey book for inspiration. Mine was told from the perspective of a “class cat” (because we have a couple of diehard cat-lovers in the group), and it involved each of these six children and their personal interests. I wasn’t really sure how “into” it they would be, but I wrote the story, made a cute cover for it, and put it in a folder for each child to keep.
I don’t know why I repeatedly get surprised by things like this, because I should know better at this point. But I was surprised at how their faces lit up when they saw the story. I was surprised how they laughed at the funny parts and exclaimed over seeing their names and personal interests in the story (which are also referenced in the cover art pictures). No one critiqued my character development or any plot holes there may have been.
I also had hard-cover blank books to give each of them, thanks to my husband. (The ones he orders are called Bare Books, and you can find them on Amazon.) I told them they could do anything they wanted in them: write a story, poetry, draw illustrations, whatever, and they could start today, or save it for summer.
I reminded them specifically that when we write, we can make anything we want happen. A cat can be a class pet in a story! A cat can talk in a story! The possibilities are endless.
Writing is such a lovely escape, and adults model that when we write for and with our kids. Read, and write, on!