Newbery award winner and New York Times bestselling author

Posts tagged ‘Isabel Campoy’

Teachers As Acquisition Editors: A Better Approach to Teaching Writing

For the next few weeks after Spring Break, I’ll be doing a writing residency at Chickahominy Middle School in Hanover, VA, where I’ll spend five or six sessions working closely with kids on their writing.

Alumni logo - CombinedI love visiting schools because it reminds me of my teaching days. Years ago, I was on the faculty of what was then the Palm Beach School of the Arts. It was a dream gig in most ways because I got to work with young people who were admitted to the school based on their interest and talent, both of which they had in abundance.

With Brandi and Tynesha, former SOA students, now grown and thriving!

With Brandi Klienert Larsen and Tynisha Wynder, former SOA students, now grown and thriving!

Some of those kids went on to become writers and editors in print and media, more or less the way I did. Others chose different paths. It doesn’t matter to me, to be honest. What’s important is that they had a few years to experiment with their voice and their creativity. I like to think that my classroom was a safe, if imperfect, writing bubble where we could laugh and experiment with styles and stories. I hope they left with a taste of the power and joy that comes from being able to conjure a reality from thin air or, more importantly, from being able to name your life experience in a way that connects you to others.

teacherscollectionauthorsintheclassroom1eThese days, when I go to classrooms, I turn to an approach that resonates with me. My friends, Isabel Campoy and Alma Flor Ada –prize-winning and respected authors and researchers – have a terrific book called Authors in the Classroom: A Transformative Education Process. It advocates for parents and teachers to write along with students and to engage in a process that celebrates the idea that we’re all authors, in one way or another.thumbs_Con Alma Flor Ada

isabel-campoyI caught up with Isabel, a dynamo of a poet and thinker, and I asked her a few questions about how we teach expression and ways that we can do it better.

MM: We are all creatures of story…from cave paintings to the Russian novel. And yet, so many people struggle with writing. What blocks people from thinking of themselves as writers?

IC: There are 237 steps to climb to my high school in Alicante, and I remember my struggle to find an important topic for my daily writing exercise before I reached the door of my classroom. By step 180 I used to slow down, not only to catch by breath, but to give me more time, hoping that some great idea would pop up. I think that fear of not having a brilliant story to share, starts for the majority even at Elementary School, and for many, it is the end of the road in a writing career. Writing is more than an intellectual exercise; it is a romance with words, words that find a vacant silence to fill it up with wonder, curiosity, expectation or love. Our universe is made up of “vacant silences.” There is room for seven billion stories, one written by each person in this tiny planet.

MM: What, if anything, do you think is missing most in how writing instruction is handled in our schools?

IC: Perhaps not understanding the difference between “authorship” and “writing” is the answer to your question. The freedom to let the mind run free on the page should never be policed by Mr. Grammar, of Ms. Syntax. Authors, at any age, should not be paralyzed by spelling, punctuation, verb tenses or appropriate structures. Their main focus should be on describing with detail the circumstances of their plots and the features of their characters, the maintenance of a tone, or the surprise of an ending. And ONLY, only when all of that is on the page, then we can all change hats and be the best managing editors, and copy editors we can be. As you well know, we published authors, spend a year writing the story and four years correcting it. Teachers should be “Acquisition Editors” those people who discover the talent in a writer and offer her a contract many years before the book will be ready to be published.

MM: Your book presents a strong case for encouraging teachers and parents to participate as writers. Why is it important for the adults in children’s lives to be “authors” too?

IC: Together with my co-author, Alma Flor Ada, we have researched the positive effects in a child’s life of a strong home/school interaction. When teachers give themselves permission to author and write a personal story to share with their students and with the parents of their students, they are sharing more than a story, or an anecdote, or a poem. They are sharing their willingness to be vulnerable and authentic, sincere and fun, hard working, and an equal in their learning community. They become models of writing. Their books, telling the story of their name, or how they became teachers, or what are their goals for their students, or who is an important person in their lives, or where do they come from is shared with students and parents. Their books travel to the home, where parents will read them, and then, will respond with a book of their own to share with their children and the teacher of their children. Authorship existed many centuries before those stories were written. Parents can become authors, through pictures, drawings, film or the written word. The important thing is the story. It is wonderful to see a community where teachers and parents see themselves as equals, sharing the importance of their students/children’s education.

MM: What is your favorite exercise from the book?

IC: I think they all contribute to that spirit of understanding we try to foment but perhaps the last topic “Where I come from” because it provides the opportunity to share our humanity. None of us chose parents, country, race, language, or the social circumstances of our birth, and what it is important is to honor your roots and keep going forward. Reflecting on these issues and realizing either our strength or our privileges, is a positive tool for a transformative education.

MM: Do you have a favorite or memorable experience of using the methods you describe?

IC: For the past twenty years, together with my co-author Alma Flor Ada we have taught this course in perhaps 40, of the 51 states in this country. Alaska was a favorite workshop! Also in Oaxaca, Mexico; Puerto Rico, Madrid, Spain; Guam in Micronesia; Bulgaria, The Czech Republic; Amsterdam; several universities in Canada like Toronto, and Winnipeg, Manitoba. We are no longer surprised by the candor and willingness to share we find in the audiences around the world. We encourage them to realize that every one is the protagonist of their life and the secondary character of many others. Being the protagonist of your book is a humble experience but a power tool to inspire transformation around us, in order to create a better world.

Teachers should be cropped

Isabel Campoy

A Familia of Latino Children’s Writers and Illustrators

René Colato Laínez's newest title; Joe Cepeda illustrator

We talk a lot about the dry spells in a writer’s life – those awful times when your lack of ideas makes you crave a straightforward job as a cashier at Target or shoveling manure.

illustration by John Parra

But every so often – as happened to me this weekend at the National Latino Children’s Literature Conference – a writer receives a precious gift, an experience that lights something inside and changes everything for the good.

The NLCLC is the brainchild of Dr. Jamie Naidoo at the University of Alabama, a herculean task he takes on every other year with his tireless team of current and former library science students.

I know what you’re thinking. Alabama? Why a conference to celebrate Latinos in a state with some of the nation’s most disturbing anti immigration lawsThe answer is, Sí, Alabama. What better place to send a group of passionate Latino authors, researchers, illustrators, and bad-ass librarians to fan passions, make connections, and work in the community?

“I have thick glasses and white hair,” one of the attendees confessed in our small group. “Who would suspect me?”

Some of the dangerous radicals!

It was especially exciting to tell the attendees about The Hope Tree Project (the topic of my talk). Several were interested in taking the idea for the project to their own schools and communities. Imagine all those hope trees taking root! Cindy Frellick of the Greenville Library in South Carolina even lent me a necklace of milagros she purchased in Mexico to wear for the unveiling on April 30. (Gracias, Cindy! I will wear it proudly and return it to you.)

Isabel Campoy and Alma Flor Ada - the poinoeers

The sessions were fantastic – everything from hands-on writing experiences to discussions of community projects, craft and career paths. I was in the prestigious company of Dr. Alma Flor Ada and Isabel Campoy– pioneers, intellectuals, scholars — and two of the most joyous women I have met. They glow when they have a chance to talk about books, youth, and the growing body of work by Latino writers and illustrators. There’s plenty to celebrate, they say. When they started in this field in the early 1960s, you could hardly find a book with an authentic representation of Latino families. But today, we have the beautiful and prize-winning work of  John Parra, Joe Cepeda, René Colato Laínez, Monica Brown, and Lila Quintero Weaver  – a rising talent – to name just a few.

Joe Cepeda's cover for Esperanza Rising

But by far the best magic happened in the quiet moments when we had a chance to meet one another as friends and fellow artists — each of us trying to name and make sense of Latino identity for kids – and, maybe in some way, for ourselves. Remarkably, we were strangers for about five minutes. After that, we found our way to each other’s hearts. My mother always says that Latinos have a special calorcito, a warmth that makes you feel as though you’re with family. I love all my writing friends, but I thought of my mother’s words more than once this weekend. My colleagues and I enjoyed professional talk, but also food, wine, laughs — even a crazy sprint across six lanes of traffic as we yelled our tongue-in-cheek, defiant battlecry. Run! It’s la migra!  

front: Jamie Naidoo, Lila Quintero Weaver, Monica Brown, me
top row: Rene Colato Lainez, Alma Flor Ada, John Parra, Isabel Campoy, Joe Cepeda

Monica Brown's beautiful tribute to the late Celia Cruz

Over our two days, we taught and we learned. We started figuring out ways to help each other along, shiny-eyed as we confessed new projects we were feeling braver to try. And, of course, we made plenty of room for silliness and laughter. (What did you expect? We’re children’s book people!) Ask John Parra to tell you about his bear camping story some time. Or Monica Brown to explain the birds and the bees of the author/illustrator relationship. Joe Cepeda will tell you why you must only send him two-line emails if you have something important to say to him. And if you ever meet René Colata Laínez, make sure he croons elevator songs for you or recites the ga-gillion words for “drinking straw” he knows from across Latin America.

It was hard to get back on a plane and say adios. Our lives will get busy, and we are a far-flung tribe. But here’s what I know. Somos de una casa. We are of one house. And for that reason I won’t ever keep them too far from my sights.

Cariños de,

Meg

If you’d like to support multicultural literature, including Latino lit, please consider making a donation to the National Latino Children’s Literature Conference 2014.  Contact Dr. Jamie Naidoo at the University of Alabama.

Meg’s next appearances:  

A writing workshop at Pamunkey Regional Library April 4;  School visit to Riverside School, Richmond, VA, April 5. See calendar tab for details!