Monday, 24 October 2011

Top 10 oddest questions I've been asked at readings...

Me and my gargoyle puppet
Here it is almost November, and another author's classroom visit season has begun. I love writing for kids, reading to kids: it's restorative, it's fun, it keeps you on your toes.

Here's what Neil Gaiman says about writing for kids because we want them to be brave and wise: Neil Gaiman's blog

Truly, I feel very honoured every time I stand in front of a classroom of children and read to them, then answer their questions. It's this amazing book odyssey we've agreed to go on together for an hour or so. In keeping with the beginning of another season of wondrous, edge-of-your-seat readings, here are the top ten unusual, hilarious or oddball things I've been asked over the years (some many times), by children during an author's classroom visit:

1. "How old are you?" Always a stopper. The first time a child asked me this I actually blurted out my age, but now I have a standard response: I'm somewhere in-between your mum and your grandmother.
2. "Do you think you're a good writer?" Sometimes I give the long answer about how writer's don't really think about their work in a good/bad way, and how we're really compelled to write so hopefully the more we do it the better we get. But sometimes I think kids are really looking for a yes/no on this one.
3. "Did gargoyles ride dinosaurs?" I usually read from my books in the Lost Gargoyle Series. I had no response to this question however, this truly stopped me in my tracks. I tried to formulate a real answer, and started a long ramble about medieval times versus prehistoric times. But I wish I'd said, "If you want gargoyles to ride dinosaurs, then yes, they did. You should write a story about it."  Flights of fancy should be respected.
4. "Are gargoyles really alive?" A child asks me this at almost every reading. I think that truth versus fictional truth is a difficult concept for some kids. What the child is really asking me is if he or she can trust me, if they should suspend their disbelief and go on this fictional journey with me. I'm glad I'm there, to introduce them to the magic of a possibly-not-real thing being real. I usually say, "Well it's a story, so it's up to you to decide if they are really alive after you read it." I think they want a "yes" or "no" here too, but I can't do that. Fictional truth is up to the reader, after all.
5. "Can I go to the bathroom?" I've learned not to keep children waiting on this one! One morning I had a child put up his hand, ask if he could go to the bathroom, then throw up all over the floor at my feet. I've never seen a classroom of 10-year-olds move so fast. Poor kid! I did wonder briefly if J.K. Rowling ever had to walk daintily around barf at a reading (probably), then the class helped me call the office and we got a caretaker. The child was fine afterwards, if a bit mortified.
6. "Did you really write that?" I think this is complimentary. I always tell them that they could write something like this, too, if they want to.
7. "Did you write your book in two hours?" I laughed at this one, I couldn't help it. It started a really good conversation about how long it takes to write a book, and children want to know. How long does it take? How many words are in a book? How do you find a publisher? Did you get to draw the illustrations? All that stuff. It's great stuff.
8. "Do gargoyles have babies?" This was a bit of a showstopper one day, got lots of giggles. I felt a certain sort of panic take hold, then cast around and came up with: "no, they are carved out of stone by a stonemason." Phew.
9. "Do you know my aunt?" Or my grandmother. Or my mom. There are a lot of these kinds of questions. I think that I must look like a lot of different people, or maybe I just have the kind of face that makes me seem like someone's friend. I'm okay with that!
10. "Why did you write your book?" Oh what a glorious question, and so wide-eyed. It's not the same as, "How did you get the idea?" either (although that's a good question which I get a lot too). It really is a: "why did you decide to do this thing that is so unlikely and so tenuous?" I love answering this one. Kids totally understand that you did something because you had the idea and you just had to. That's childhood. And I think it's also a big part of being a children's author.

And that's the top ten list of questions, so far anyway!

PD/October 24/2011

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