Alison Clement

observations from a novelist who sometimes wants to say something small and see it published immediately

>Twenty Questions and the kids at my school

(a question from the blog, Book Lovers Online Guide, courtesy of the Roseville, California Library)
The descriptions of the innocence and tenderness of the school children struck me deeply, made me think of my own young children. Is this feeling coming out of your own experience working at a school?

For the last ten years, I’ve worked in the library of an elementary school. The school where I work is a Title 1 school. About 90% of the kids are on free or reduced lunch, which in school language means they’re poor kids. Many of them have problems associated with poverty—their parents struggle to support them, some are in foster homes, some have parents in jail, some are homeless, some are drug or alcohol-affected. Some of the parents are in Iraq. The kids are often naughty, but they are also funny and insightful and philosophical.
At my school we spend a lot of time talking to the kids about using words to solve problems, being respectful, listening to the other guy, not blaming, taking responsibility. But the bigger world tells them that the bully wins. We don’t need anybody. It’s not our fault.
How do we counter that? How do we teach kindness and humanity in a culture that glorifies violence and rationalizes war?
I’ve wanted to write about the children for a long time and found, finally, that I could tell the truth about them, or get as close to the truth as possible, through fiction. I wanted my readers to meet the kids on their own terms, with their own observations, their own words. So, even though none of the characters in my book is taken from a specific child, almost everything a child says in the book is from something a child has said to me.
I don’t think most people understand how many of our children live in very difficult situations.
I don’t know what to do about these things but at least, as a writer, I can write about them.

Categories: children, schools, writing


3 replies

  1. >I admire what you’re doing with the children. I’m a mother of 3 and a teacher, but I wouldn’t be good at working with children. I found your comment at Alison’s blog. I remembered your name because you published with MacAdam/Cage, which I did also in 2002.

  2. >Some of my happiest years were teaching preschool children, ages 3 to 5. I taught them drama, art, music and creative movement. Actually, they taught me. Their bodies were free and full to life. They twisted, turned, leaped and bounced as they spoke. In fact, movement was their language. They hadn’t mastered speaking, yet. But they were able to communicate through sounds and movement. We began each class lying on the floor, looking at each other. We studied the shape of our eyes, the color, the length of our eyelashes. We then stretched our necks like gazelles, nibbling leaves off the trees. And then we stretched our arms, turning them into tree limbs, reaching toward the sky. I wrote a book about all these experiences. I should now rewrite it, calling it “Movement Magic.” As a writer, I now spend my days in front of a computer screen. How wonderful it would be to get up from my computer and stretch my arms to the sky. Or to look out my window and imitate the tree limbs moving in the breeze. I love to look out my window when a storm is brewing. If only I’d step outside and use my body to make storm-like movements. Just like when I was kid. One time at bedtime, a storm began to brew outside. I slipped out the house and danced in the wind. Dressed in my thin nightgown, I relished the feeling of the wind hitting my body. It made me jump and twist with joy. Creating a celebration of the storm. Where has that wild imagination disappeared to? I must try to recapture that. Children naturally have that ability to express — it comes form within and jumps out at the world. In sounds, movement, humor and also words. It’s too bad that grown-ups try to correct their children’s speech. We don’t know that they’ve been talking to us long before we understand their words. Pamela Stone, author, A Woman’s Guide to Living Alone: 10 Ways to Survive Grief and Be Happy, Taylor Publishing, 2001.

  3. >This is the Conservative Rebublican Uncle from Texas and I just want everyone to know that my wonderful niece (the very liberal democrat) Al and I still love each other even though we don’t see eye to eye on some political issues. As far as me living in sin, hey I tried the married route twice. Isn’t that sufficient? :o)

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