I had this great conversation with a teenager a few weeks ago. He was a stranger to me, and circumstances just happened to have us sitting next to each other. He started by asking me what I was reading. (It was Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo.) I gave him a quick summary, and he shared with me how he used to enjoy reading so much, but things were just too busy between high school and his job to read for fun anymore.
He was a non-native English speaker, and it was learning to enjoy reading that brought the language alive for him. Any guess what the book that hooked him was? I wasn't surprised when he said Harry Potter, because I witnessed that same magic with my students in middle school year after year. My first revelation that day was a sense of regret that our education system hasn't picked up on this trend. In elementary and middle school, we encourage kids to read whatever they enjoy, to foster a love of books. We are dying for kids to read for fun. But in many high schools, the emphasis shifts. I think we'd do better to support reading as a source of entertainment instead of just work.
Next he asked me if I was a teacher. He said I just had that look, though I think it was more my enthusiasm for talking about Harry Potter, and books in general, that gave me away. So, here's the thing. I told him I was a teacher, but I didn't tell him I'm a writer. (I'm embarrassed to say I didn't relish the follow-up questions that come with that.) He could've asked more about teaching, or even stopped talking to this mom-aged lady, but next he asked me what I'd wanted to be when I was his age.
I can't remember anyone asking me that question in my adult life. So I told him. I told him how I'd always loved reading. Though there were many things I'd wanted to be throughout my childhood, when I was eighteen, I wanted to work in publishing as an editor. It was the only way I could see where reading could be my job. I didn't think I had the creativity to write, but I'd known I wanted to work with books. Teaching did let me do that, but not in the way I'd imagined.
It's taken a long and winding road, but I am finally following that dream. I'm really glad we crossed paths that day, because he reminded me why I'm doing what I'm doing. I love writing, and I'm proud of the novels I've completed. But whatever the outcome of my own writing career, joining this community, through SCBWI and social media, has allowed me to practice exactly what I wanted to do. Supporting writers. Reading books on the front lines of the industry through CPs, betas, and ARCs. And helping, even in some small way, books come to the shelves that bring our language and our world alive for young readers.
Music for today: Five Seconds by Twin Shadow