On February 22nd and 23rd, I joined eight other Alberta artists at Story Avenue–an annual writing conference designed to foster literacy among grades 5 and 6 students from Edmonton’s downtown core.
Orca author, Natasha Deen, and I were among the presenters. It’s always great connecting with friends and colleagues there… and of course with the students!
Rita Feutl, author of “Rescue At Fort Edmonton” and “Bike Thief” was also one of the presenters.
The Alberta artists led students through a series of writing and illustrating workshops. And while I pride myself on offering energetic, informative sessions, sometimes the students simply take over…. (and I love it when that happens!)
Annie*: “The protagonist is the main character and I bet I know who you’re going to talk about next–the antagonist, because that’s, like, the protagonist’s enemy and sometimes I like to hate on that character but sometimes I like that enemy-antagonist guy a bit too.”
[Wow! That also sums up my feelings about the antagonist… that the antagonist isn’t ALL bad, and some of the best stories give us insights into why antagonists behave as they do. Way to go, Annie!]
And then there was Keenan*: “Have you ever noticed that books sometimes start with a little bit of stuff about who the character is and where he lives, then the action suddenly takes off?”
[Yes, Keenan, I have. That’s the cool thing about the inciting incident, which alters the protagonist’s world. And then the action TAKES OFF! Good catch!]
*student names have been changed.
It’s always magical when the student enthusiasm fills the room!
Story Avenue is also packed with wonderful volunteers. One of them, an elementary teacher, shared an amazing story with me about a really bad day she had when she was in junior high.
Her story inspired me so much that I might write a book about it someday. I won’t tell you Ms. B’s story yet but I’ll divulge a key phrase/teaser: “teacher’s mark book.” Stay tuned!
I also invited the students from my Thursday sessions to share their thoughts about what they wrote. I have listed them below, along with the students’ pen names:
“I was proudest that I wrote my own half story.” Anonymous, grade 6
“What I liked best was the mystery of the story.” Dread Nought, grade 6
“What I liked best was the continuation of Karen’s story.” Fy-FFF, grade 6
“I liked that we got to write about being accused for things we didn’t do.” K, grade 6
“What I liked best in my story was the dark figure disappearing in the shadow.” T, grade 6
“What I did well was explain why Mrs. Granger blamed Marcy, Kyle and Alex for taking the $30.” Hazel, grade 6
“It feels so good writing my story.” Honey the Cat, grade 5
“I liked talking and making the settings for the story. I wrote lots and put lots of details.” Cyborg Hot Dog, grade 6
“I thought it was a lot of fun how we got to finish an actual author’s story.” I.H., grade 6
“I liked when she shared her tips and when we were writing the ideas.” Anon, grade 6
“I like it best when we were writing about a blame story and how I added detail to my story.” M, grade 5/6
“Something I did well was the twist to my story.” B, grade 5
“I loved it. It helped me with my writing. I loved my twist ending.” J, grade 5
“What I liked best is that Karen is so funny! All of it made me proud.” Squishy Heart, grade 5
“I am proud of how my story went so smooth.” Nicki Ma Noodles, grade 6
“The writing was the best part. I was proud of my creativity.” grade 5
“I liked that we got to write our own story. I was proudest of my powerful words.” S.
“What I liked best was that she was funny. I’m proud of the amount I wrote.” Cherry Chipotle, grade 5
“What made me proudest was when people talk in my story.” Mr. Bearpaw, grade 6 [Author note: I am thrilled to have found another writer who loves dialogue as much as I do!]
“Karen was nice and funny and I learned a lot. I am proud that I thought of so many things.” Success Queen, grade 5
“I liked the part where we learn the pro tips and the part where we got to write. Something I did well was where I solved the story.” Astra, grade 5
“I liked when you told the story, ‘Missing.’ I was proudest of how I wrote that the mean character said, ‘I thought it was my dad.'” Unicorn Cop Com, grade 5 [Author note: that was a seriously cool plot twist!]
“I liked all of it. The fun characters made me proudest.” Buzzfeed, grade 6
“What I liked best was writing how to prove you’re innocent. I explained it step by step.” J, grade 6
“What I liked best was EVERYTHING!!! I was proud that I made it interesting and I put in a twist in the end.” Kitty Vi, grade 6
As always, the students made me incredibly proud. Best of all, I think they made themselves proud too.
Many thanks to the Young Alberta Book Society for organizing Story Avenue. Thanks also to the wonderful sponsors for funding the program, including buying a book for each student.
It was a pleasure signing copies of VANISH and sending them home with the students. I hope they all enjoy meeting Simone, Lily, Aaron, and friends!
One of the students could hardly believe that he was getting his OWN book… to keep!
Much gratitude to these sponsors for their commitment to fostering literacy among Edmonton’s city-centre students:
Edmonton Oilers, Telus, Werklund Foundation, Edmonton Public Teachers (Local 37), City of Edmonton, Alberta Foundation for the Arts, Edmonton Arts Council, Alberta Government