I walk into the eighth grade language arts classes in Clay Center, Kansas. The students clutch their research papers, as if they were protecting them from pilfering and plagiarism. They breathe sighs of relief that the research and note-taking is over; works cited and publishing preparations yet to go.
I empty my big canvas bag. These are samples of the various ways books are published, I tell them. Contract books done to a publisher’s specs; commercial methods when I write the story and find a publisher to buy it; self-publishing when I do it all, including marketing and distribution. I show them one of each (contract book on lowriders, Gordon Parks illustrated biography, and Tex Winter’s story as an example of self-publishing). Hands go up, asking questions about time, money, and educational background. I tell them writing is more than a full-time job, that you don’t make much money, and that I’m a late, late blooming writer, since I was middle-aged when I went back to school and started writing seriously. I also tell them that many believe being a successful writer is 5% talent and 95% BIC (bottom in chair). Their eyebrows elevate into their hairlines.
We return to the topic at hand. They are ready to plan their text for printing. When do we get to print our pages? A pre-prepared publishing kit provides high-quality, glossy, pre-numbered pages, including a title page and a dedication page. They create a design on a designated page that forms the cover. This process is more than simply writing a book. It becomes a design challenge, done individually, but in a team setting. Everyone receives the same product; the playing field is leveled. It’s about intermediate goal accomplishments and deadlines. The learning is full circle.
Clay Center Arts Council sponsors this project. I tell them they will receive their individual published books in April, when they see their books for the first time at a rousing celebration with family and friends. I remind them that they are most fortunate to have Mrs. Lane as their teacher; she holds them accountable for excellent work, further refines the process each year, and supports them with information they need. She hands out nonstop caring and infuses the environment with a calm attitude and a wonderful sense of humor. This is the sixth year she and I have done the project for her eighth graders, and I’m grateful to be able to work with her.
I ask students about the topics they’ve chosen. Hands go up again. Samples of this year’s choices include medieval torture methods, King Arthur, the history of Case tractors, World War II tanks, cosmetology as a career, England’s Beatles, Kansas State University football, and Mustang cars, etc. I ask what surprised them in the research of their topic. Their eyes light up as they think about the information they uncovered. World War II tanks? How huge they were. Beatles? How hard they worked. Torture methods? A head crusher.
Would you agree that these eighth graders are proving to themselves and to others that they can GO ANYWHERE, DO ANYTHING, and BE ANYBODY by reading and writing? It was a great day. Thanks, eighth graders, and thanks, Mrs. Lane, for the privilege.