It was a bright and sunny day in September. I went to give an “author talk” with the third graders at Thomas Stone Elementary, a neighborhood public school a few blocks from my house in our little town on the eastern edge of Washington, DC. We had a wonderful chat! I read some scenes and talked about my book Rainwood House Sings, which is set in a neighborhood very like ours, and deals with local history, current issues and familiar playground dramas. The children were fascinated to learn that my daughter Sophie helped me write and illustrate the book starting when she was just about their age.
A few days later, the children’s teacher gave me the inspiring “thank you” letters they wrote, saying things like, “I love reading and writing,” and “I’d like to write a book…”
As it happens, I’d been planning to draft Book Two of the Rainwood House social justice mystery series this November, participating in National Novel Writing Month. Suddenly, I thought: Why not invite the third-graders to write a novel, too? Since the Rainwood House books are for teens and adults, the students could write a book for children their age. Being familiar with the setting and many of the issues the books raise, they would have lots to say!
A NaNoWriMo November novel draft needs a minimum of 50,000 words to “win.” We’re going to write every day—even holidays!—to make our goal. Writing that much in one month, especially the very full month of November, is a big challenge. But with determination, encouragement and support, we think we can do it! Update: Twenty-six third graders wrote over 30,000 words. Not quite 50,000, but a very respectable total for a book for their age group. I did meet the goal of 50,000 words on my draft, Rainwood House Burns, though it was a cliffhanger right to the end as to whether I’d make it.
During the rest of the school year we want to work on the children’s novel to take it from a rough draft at the end of November to a beautiful illustrated chapter book at the end of June. The motto of National Novel Writing Month is “The World Needs Your Novel!” Well, we think the world needs our Third Grade Novelist Team’s novel! During November we set a big goal for our Indiegogo Campaign to go with our big word count goal: $5,000. We actually made ten percent of that, although after the campaign we received more. Moral: dollars are harder to generate than words!
“We need more programs like this,” says Ms. Helda Morad, principal of Thomas Stone Elementary School. “Many of our children are from low-income families with little access to writing enrichment programs, especially free of charge to students like this one. I know of no other program where the children collaborate with a neighborhood author and take on the challenge to write a whole novel together!”
MORE ABOUT THE RAINWOOD NOVELS
Book One: The Plot
Rainwood House Sings features Marlie Mendíval, a University of Maryland groundskeeper living with her sharp-eyed, bat-loving nine-year-old granddaughter Samantha in Rainwood House,
a decaying post-Civil War abode lightly haunted by old civil rights struggles and musical plumbing. Their new housemate, Demetrius, is a community activist and horticulturalist from Northeast DC. Unbeknownst to them, however, he is also a fugitive, accused of shooting a policeman. Along with glamorous union shop steward Laranda Moss and a lively crew of supporters, Marley, Samantha and Demetrius struggle to save themselves and Rainwood House by starting a People’s History Museum, a Friendship Club, and a modern-day Underground Railroad stop.
Book Two: The Plot Thickens
As with most real-life mysteries, the end of the Book One leaves us with questions: Will the smart new housemate knocking on the door in the first scene of Book Two discover Demetrius’s identity? What will happen when the dreaded historic preservation inspection comes on Tuesday? Can the Friendship Club secretly help set up communication between Liberated Zone and Rainwood House? Is Rainwood House’s role as a modern-day Underground Railroad stop able to accommodate another fugitive, Marley’s co-worker who is fleeing ICE? And what of the sparks between Marley and a new acquaintance, when both are involved in the daring river rescue of a capsized cross-country skiier? Will Blake succeed in selling Rainwood House to an environmentalist organization? And of course, the question that started everything: who shot Officer Larsen?
Throughout the year, we’ll think, write and discuss the novel-writing process we’re working on together.