I started volunteering at this amazing organization called 826 Seattle. 826 is an organization started out in California as a place for kids to go and get help with writing, or free tutoring with anything. It is supported by a store out front called Greenwood Space Travel Supply, a place to purchase books, space guns, bottled elements, and Cat in a Can. Monday through Thursday they host field trips where classes come in and get to explore the writing process and leave with a fully published book, complete with binding and author head shot on the back. It is amazing to watch a room full of 2nd graders understand and elaborate on characters, setting, plot. You can actually see the little cogs in their brains starting to slowly turn, threading together these fresh little ideas—almost always about a talking animal.
At some point in the field trip the kids must raise their hands, speak their idea for the title, and then vote. Majority wins, of course. Today there was one remarkable little kid who wanted his idea to win so badly, his hand was in the air pulsating with excitement. He had the story all planned out around this one sentence . . . but did it win? No. Today’s title was: The Worm Who Doesn’t Have a Name. Just one step off from, The Worm Who Never Had a Name, which is to me the better title, but not such luck. That kid had it right, the worm whose parents never gave him a name was a little better than the worm who just forgot, at least I think. In a room full of kids who wear their personalities dangling off of their bedazzled Jansport backpacks, it’s hard to be the kid with a different opinion.
My job in this whole process is to help make the actual, physical book. Lots of copying, collating, and fastback binding in a short period of time. But, my most favorite part of the morning is right when the bus pulls up and the kids come through the door into this amazing loft space filled with books and weird stuff like replicas of imaginary galaxies. I get to take each kid’s picture. It’s always very confusing because they never listen to directions and they don’t quite understand why I’m taking their picture, but that’s what makes me love it. Sometimes a kid will strike a pose, something off hand and unexpectedly writerly; a hand under the chin, head cocked to the side. Something you can find on the back of 4 out of 10 books at Barnes and Noble. Sometimes I ask the boys if they want to have their hat on, or their hood, depending. They almost always misunderstand what I mean and take it off. They don’t realize that I don’t actually care if they wear their hat. This is the part when I realize that I am old enough to be their parent, and they view me as such.
I take all these pictures, load them into iPhoto, then print them on a sticker that will adorn the About the Author page on the back of their book. I’ll be the first to say, the weirder looking the kid, the more I love the picture. At the end of the field trip each kid picks out their picture page in a line up just before we bind it into a book with their story, not one kid ever looks at the picture and thinks they look bad. This is what I love about second graders. This, and the fact that most of them don’t brush their hair.