Visit to Lake Travis Middle School

You know, children astound me. Every time I visit a school I half-forget what I came to impart and just stand there in stupefied awe at the kids’ imaginations. Then I cleverly disguise my stupefication with more talking.

Every year (for the past four, anyway…where does the time go?) I’ve had the good fortune of visiting Lake Travis and Hudson Bend Middle Schools out in the Lakeway area. Every year the kids blow me away a little more. Both schools do a lovely annual project in which the kids in the eighth grade language arts classes all have to create their own picture book. For first graders.

Hence, my visit. They have me come out to present about the industry and the process of creating a book. Part of that presentation is demonstrating the creation of a sample storyboard. The entire room participates. It is quite fun, and ranges from ridiculous to somber to epic. For this portion, I stand at the front of the room and draw what the kids come up with:

We break it down this way: that basically every story on Earth—from Jane Eyre to Macbeth to The Hunger Games to Harry Potter—is about a character with a problem, and the story is about the resolution of that problem. So in my visits, we first come up with a character. Then we give him/her a problem.

On Wednesday, the kids dreamed up the following characters and their problems:

*Paul the hybrid genie/vampire. Problem: doesn’t fit in with the genies or vampires (can’t sleep upside down, and wants to bite the kids he’s supposed to be granting wishes to. I forgot to take a picture of him, unfortunately.)

*Gretchen the half-octopus girl. Problem: wants to be a girl scout, but Daddy Octopus thinks she should stay in the ocean.

*Fabio the boy with a devil tail, scythe, and high heels. Problem: identity crisis.

(That’s Fabio in a beauty pageant and trying to get his scythe through the airport security line.)

And so forth. The kids all chimed in, even the ones convinced a few minutes prior to beginning the presentation that they possessed no creative capacity at all. (Which is baloney, by the way. I believe no such thing about any human.)

And THEN, the lovely librarian at LTMS, Joyce Lloyd, showed me some of the kids’ books from last year. PEOPLE. These blew me away.

Here we have a former eighth-grader who cut his illustrations out of construction paper. Note the forshortening, detail, and so forth (not to mention the intricate language in the text):

That couch! It amazes me!

And also:

That purple thing is a snapping hand, people! Bent fingers and all!

Interior drawings from another eighth-grader’s book. The characterization would make Quentin Blake proud:

Check out the action! The angles!

That’s always my favorite part of these visits—seeing what the kids come up with. Hearing a child who claimed five minutes ago that he/she possesses no creative ability, only to belt out rip-roaring ideas. Ideas that show what an imaginative, unique intellect was brewing in there all along. Never never underestimate the talent, ingenuity, resourcefulness, or observational capacity of kids, people. They amaze me.

So that was it. I look forward to TLA coming up very soon.

4 Responses to Visit to Lake Travis Middle School

  1. Joyce Loyd says:

    Salima–this is beautiful. You have some wonderful shots of the ideas. Do you still want Melinda Smith to send pictures she took of your presentation? The yearbook is due this Friday, then she will have time to look for them. This years kids sure did take to heart what you presented and are enjoying the process of making their books. Stay in touch, Joyce L.

    • salima says:

      Sure, have her send pictures! I’ll add them to this post when she does. I’m so happy to hear about the kids’ excitement. I love coming out to see you guys!:)

  2. That looks like tons of fun. My daughter would eat this right up. How did you get started doing this?

    • salima says:

      Hi Ben! Good to hear from you! I’d already been published in the picture book market in 2007, when I moved to Austin. I didn’t really know how to start with school visits, so I just cold-called every school in my area. That year about twelve schools had me come out to present, all the way from elementary to high school. 🙂 How old is your daughter?

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