Teaching a Child to Write — How I Began As as Writer
How to teach a child to write? — by early reading. I’m living proof. I gained my desire to write from my mother, who read aloud to me and my brother every day. She also often took us to the library. When I was ten, she took me through a magical literary portal — a fantastic and immense bookstore full of used books, Acre of Books in downtown Long Beach, California. I remember holding her hand and walking into a warehouse sized space so thick with dust that I instantly sneezed.
The shelves were taller than she was. We browsed around and Mom picked out a few books. I didn’t dare touch anything, until she encouraged me to select a few myself. I was drawn to books with colorful, clothbound books with the word “Oz” stamped in gold on their spines. The Oz books were written by a man named L. Frank Baum.
After a reading hop down the length of the Yellow Brick Road, and all the Oz spinoffs, I had run out of Oz books, and I had learned that L. Frank Baum was long dead. He would not be writing any more. Therefore, I reasoned, it was up to me to provide my own fascinating adventures in literature. That was the place where my inspirations seemed to bubble up, along with the aspiration to tell stories. I wanted to write more Oz books because I needed to read.
The Wishing Well of Desperation
That was how I found the desire to write. It was up to me! So I dipped into the well of desperation and my pen picked up the ink to rite some stories. My most successful one was a Halloween story that I was invited to read out to my fourth grade class. I was delighted to discover I had a sense of humor! I could make people laugh. Unfortunately, my next read-aloud story bombed. But the thrill of an audiencewas unforgettable.
Next, I bought and read the colored fairytale books, notably the story of the Twelve Dancing Princesses. The idea of a kingdom under my bed was so appealing that I began to imagine alternate kingdoms everywhere—in my back yard, down the block, in the ravine beyond our backyard, over the hill where the sun went down as we ate dinner on the patio every night.
Children should be encouraged to geek out about writing. Thanks to my father’s intervention with our Seventh Street School’s principal, I was the kid who was allowed to bring a typewriter to fifth grade class, where my teacher Mr. Judge asked me to blend with our curriculum by writing a play for the class to enact on The Westward Expansion. That chapter of history may never be the same — thanks to the frenetic wagonmaster who resembled my manic engineer father — but the thrill of hearing my story enacted was unforgettable. I’m still writing plays.
Mysteries and Suspense
When I found Nancy Drew, I learned that there was such a story as a mystery, and that it kept you turning pages to find out what happened. Mysteries! Suspense! After all, everything in my world, and every kingdom I could imagine, was pretty mysterious. At the ages of ten, eleven, and twelve, there’s so much you notice and don’t understand, and that the adults in your life are always telling you they’ll explain when you’re older.
My first novel was called The Prisoner of the Locked Room. I wrote it when I was about twelve. It was 100 whole pages long! My father’s secretary typed it up, and I still have it. I still didn’t understand that a mystery involved a murder. I don’t believe I had yet heard of murders, leading a sheltered suburban childhood. So I wrote all around this mysterious locked room, with its nameless prisoner—why were they imprisoned? By whom? I’d write until I figured it out. I decided to better Nancy Drew, and have twin girl sleuths! Double the fun, double the fancy clothes, double the mystery-solving. Now all I needed was an actual mystery. I never did figure out what was in that room.
Early reading promotes writing–and I’m a perfect example. I didn’t always have a lot of company. I was in fact a lonely child. But my love of books began with daily bedtime reading. Mom also gets huge credit for taking me to the library many days and to the wonderful Acre of Books. I wish for every child in the world to be read to and told stories. Anything, a sacred text, a poem, a comic book, a website for stories. Thanks, Mom, for reading to me and teaching me touch typing—giving me a love of language and an important tool to write!