By Eileen Meyer, Children’s Book Author
Just a few months ago I gathered with middle school students at the Amelia Island Book Festival’s Teen Tween Event. What a fond memory in light of our current situation during this coronavirus pandemic and restrictions on group gatherings.
Over a hundred middle school and high school students arrived at Fernandina Beach Middle School for the event on Thursday, February 13th. Best-selling author Margot Lee Shetterly, who researched and penned the book, Hidden Figures, headlined the after-school event. Margot spoke to the students about the process of writing her book, how she handled its success as a debut author, and the process of consulting for the movie adaptation. Personally, it was a thrill to meet Margot prior to the event. She is a lovely, warm and caring person; she engaged with the students and encouraged them to follow their dreams.
Children’s authors Stacey Horan, Nancy Viau, headliner Margot Lee Shetterly, Eveline Holingue, and Eileen Meyer
Once the group presentation was complete, the students moved on to two breakout sessions where they spent time with children’s book authors in small groups. I met with middle school students in each of my breakout sessions and I shared a few Lincoln stories from my new book, The Superlative A. Lincoln: Poems About Our 16th President (Charlesbridge Publishing, 2019). The book earned the Silver Medal for Older Children’s Literature from the Florida Book Awards in March, 2020.
Students asked me why I wrote this book as a collection of poems. I said that poetry provides the reader with an opportunity to slow down, pause and reflect. A poet uses lyrical language, sound, rhythm and form to engage the reader in a very special way. The bite-sized morsels and white space makes the page appealing to readers. That extra space encourages readers at all levels to take a look at the poem, and also allows room for young people to think about the topic and form their own connections.
We talked about one of the poems, the history behind it, and how the topic of effective communication relates to their lives. I shared the poem, “Best Yarn-Spinner: The President Tells a Story.” Our sixteenth president was a legendary storyteller and he used that gift to his advantage. He told stories to connect with others, help folks consider a different point of view, deflect from giving a straight answer, and more. Lincoln was a master at interpersonal communication and relationship building. What would Lincoln think about texting someone about a key matter instead of talking face-to-face? I noted that there is much that we can learn from how our sixteenth president handled situations. Sharing these stories with young readers is an opportunity to start a conversation. Students talked about the differences between texting someone on their phone and talking to that individual in person—and when it might be best to do each.
Eileen in the classroom
One student asked about how I write poetry. I shared that my process is pretty simple: I read a great deal of history about my topic; I do a lot of thinking about what I might want to share in a particular poem; then I write a really awful first draft of a poem and revise until it sparkles. (I might need to interview an expert, too.) That’s it. I take my time and work slowly when I am researching and writing.
There were many excellent middle school writers at both after-school sessions and I encouraged them to flex their muscles and write some poetry, too. Whether writing in journals at home, creating a poem on a phone app, or penning something for a creative writing assignment— poetry can be an effective way to tell a story or share an important truth. I look forward to connecting with more outstanding middle school students in the future! Thanks to the Amelia Island Book Festival volunteers for putting on this wonderful event.