Earlier this year I began volunteering in my 4th grade daughter's class. I've helped out before, but this time I came with an agenda. My daughter's teacher had asked me to visit every Friday to teach the kids how to write and to offer creative inspiration. And during my visits I could read a little of my middle grade novel, THE CURSE of the MUMMY PRINCESS. A chapter a week.
That's how it started.
During my first visit, as I sat down in front of a classroom full of kids to read my manuscript, I freaked out inside. And apparently outside too, because a girl in the front row pointed out to the rest of the class that I had a dark red rash growing up my neck.
With a shaky voice and a red, blotchy neck, I read the first chapter of my story...out loud...to kids.
And they loved it.
I was no longer asked to spend my time teaching writing, but to read as much as possible of my manuscript before the bell rang.
Over the top of my purple Kindle I'd see the teacher pause from grading papers to sit and listen. And my heart would quicken.
The kids started drawing pictures of the characters and scenes from the story. And with great detail. They caught the part that explained the gold in Aziza's braids. And the part that showed Aziza's dark skin and her servant Halima's lighter skin tone. They caught everything!
Some days, if I finished before the bell rang, the teacher would excitedly pull up pictures of ancient Egypt for the class to see and I'd tell the kids little historical tidbits that weren't included in the story. Two weeks ago, the teacher explained to the class that my manuscript challenged some ways of thinking, which led into a great class discussion on gender roles and religious freedom. (Yes, my daughter's teacher is AMAZING.)
Not only did the kids (and an adult) enjoy my story, but it inspired important conversations.
And you know what else? While some would call it a "girl book" because the main character is female, the boys liked it just as much. Today one of the boys told me his favorite character is Isis because she's tough and strong.
Today I finished telling the story. My heart sped as I read those last few pages, hoping the ending didn't disappoint the children listening and picturing the action unfold in their heads. When I said "The End" I received applause from twenty-something sets of hands. And my neck probably still got red and blotchy, but for a completely different reason than before.
I wouldn't have experienced any of these things if I hadn't read my manuscript to a big group of kids. A big group of amazing, intelligent, imaginative, deep-thinking kids.
I'm not saying you need to run out and read your manuscript to an elementary school class. I am saying, though, it's an incredible experience.