Friday, November 6, 2009

My Favorite Students

We’ve been focusing on how our books are used in the classroom on I.N.K. this month, so I thought I’d pay tribute to some of the more memorable students I’ve met in my role as an author over the years. I’ve given them nicknames to ensure their anonymity, but I can picture each of them to this day. Remembering their innocence, their curiosity, their disarming comments keeps me humble and reminds me why I love writing for young audiences.

The Straight Shooter: When talking about Bull’s-Eye, my biography of Annie Oakley, to third graders at a suburban New Jersey public school, I met a girl who confidently stood up and asked, “Since rifles have a greater range than shotguns, why did Annie Oakley use shotguns in her performances?” Mind you, I hadn’t told the class that rifles shoot farther—she just knew that. In third grade! I asked how she had come upon that particular fact and she answered that she’d learned it from her brother. Hmmm. By the way, the reason Annie used shotguns when she performed in outdoor arenas with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show is that she didn’t want any shots that missed her targets to travel beyond the arena and hurt people or damage property. Plus the collection of pellets from one shot of her shotgun had a greater chance of hitting the target than the single bullet emitted at the pull of a rifle's trigger.

The Doubter: During an author Q&A at a middle school in Iowa, I explained that I had written my book, Winning Ways: A Photohistory of Women in Sports because I love sports. A boy in the class looked me up and down, incredulous, and finally asked, “But aren’t you too old to like sports?” I was 43 at the time.

The Dedicated Swimmers: As part of the events surrounding my presentations on women’s sports history at a private girls’ school in New Jersey, the elementary students were invited to dress in the equipment of their favorite sport. Kids had a great time wearing soccer uniforms, softball cleats, and basketball jerseys, but the ones who I remember best were those swimmers who walked around in impossibly tight bathing caps all day long. Ouch!

The Intrepid Historian: Finally, there is the sixth grader from Los Angeles who chose the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League as the topic for her National History Day presentation. It’s a popular History Day choice; the experiences of the women who played baseball during and after World War II seem to resonate with kids, especially girls. But this enthusiastic teenager and I shared a six-month correspondence as she worked on her project. After an initial telephone interview, during which she asked me some basic questions about the league, she updated me on her progress via e-mail and occasional phone calls just about every week. Not surprisingly, she won $50 and a bronze medal for “having the most phone and email interviews out of 750 students!” In her last e-mail, on March 16, 2009, she wrote, “Thank you very much Sue Macy. You have no clue how much you have helped us win.” I kind of miss her.

1 comment:

Linda Zajac said...

Wow. With that kind of effort that historian is going places.

In one of the inquiry based science programs that I've done, I asked the kids to think about how they would count grizzly bears (on a parcel of land that is about the size of Rhode Island). One well-mannered little girl raised her hand. "I would climb a tree," she said. Too cute.