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New Ideas at Williams Elementary in Virginia Beach

Every time I speak to students about my work as an author, I end the session as fired up as they are. I get a new idea, a new phrase, or a new drawing out of the brainstorming we do together, and my talk this week to fourth- and fifth-graders at Williams Elementary in Virginia Beach is a good look at how the process works. . .

First, the school purchased sets of my history comix for each classroom last spring. The teachers reported to me how excited the kids were to read them and how much their test scores improved last spring. So the audience was ready for me Tuesday! (One girl in the front row made a point to tell me, as the other students filed into the cafeteria, that her favorite title was “Slavery’s Storm.” I don’t think of that one as a feel-good favorite. But I was happy she found connection with my stories about the political and social struggles leading up to the Civil War.)

Speaking to about 200 fourth-graders in a big cafeteria is a challenge. But the microphone was great, and I could do my roaming among the rows of kids easily, peppering them with questions and trying to draw ideas with them. Here was one of my inventions for Williams: my fourth drawing in the talk is usually a drawing of me drawing a historical figure, who stands to the side and critiques my drawing. I’ve used George Washington (“My nose is NOT that big!”) and James Madison (“I am NOT that short!”) but for Williams I decided to draw Frederick Douglass and his awesome historical afro! The kids loved it — and, to my happiness, knew who Douglass was. That’s rare among American fourth-graders.

The fifth-graders in the afternoon session also threw me a curveball I’ve never faced. I put on the overhead my page about the Dred Scott decision, which features the black robe of the chief justice of the Supreme Court covering over the panels below it. I started the discussion of the page by asking, “What kind of person wears a black robe for their job?” One student said “Lincoln!” Hmmmm, he did wear a black longcoat . . . “George Washington!” Ummmm, yeah, we see him in a black heavy coat in the crossing of the Delaware, but what kind of job would a . . . “PREACHER!” Oh boy, I hadn’t thought of THAT one before!!! EXCELLENTLY broad cultural referencing there! My own preacher doesn’t wear a big robe, but many ministers in many other kids of churches do.

I laughed and then made my Judge Judy reference, and we were back on track.

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This entry was posted on Thursday, October 15th, 2009 at 9:06 am and is filed under Author's Purpose. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

2 Responses to “New Ideas at Williams Elementary in Virginia Beach”

  1. Barnett says:

    hello there, I didn’t know where to contact you but your web design looked off on opera and firefox. Anyways, i just suscribd to your rss.

  2. Bentley Boyd says:

    Thanks for the tip, Barnett — we’ll check it out. There is an e-mail link to contact me: it’s linked to that yellow, vertical area at the bottom of my cartoon menu on the left-side of the page. Or shoot me questions and comments at

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