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Kids and their Writing

2010 July 27

 After I finish speaking, a fifth grader finds me in the hall. “Could I ask you…” she begins. She’s serious, so earnest; she hesitates. “I’m supposed to do a report on your book, NORY RYAN’S SONG, but I don’t know what the characters look like.”

 I hesitate, too. “I do hardly anything in the way of character description,” I say. “I do mention eyes, though. My characters usually have blue eyes, probably because my father’s eyes were a wonderful sky blue and so are my husband’s. My son Jim’s eyes are blue-stone like slate. They became Patch’s eyes in the Nory book.”

 She leans forward. She wants to be a writer, she tells me, and she’s tired of writing about hair, and eyes, and characters looking in mirrors to describe themselves.

 Fifth grade. I didn’t think about that until years later when I was well into my writing life, years later.

 I tell her that the Alastair Bright, the illustrator of the new ZIGZAG KIDS series, has provided wonderful drawings of each character.   

“Do they look the way you pictured them?” she asks.

 I cast around in my mind. I can see my characters so clearly…except for their faces. I know what’s in their minds, most of the time, I know how they act. It’s because they act like me; maybe it’s because they’re me.

  “Here’s something,” I tell her. “Close your eyes and picture Nory Ryan.”

 Her answer comes slowly. “She tries to be brave. She loves her brother. She’s hungry.” Then she opens her eyes. “I think she looks a little like me.”

I pat her on the shoulder. “Yes,” I say. “Exactly. That’s what I want readers to think. I want them to see themselves.”

I watch her go back down the hall. “What’s your name?” I ask her.


“I’ll look for your first book,” I tell her.        

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