I know most authors dream of a movie deal, but I got to see my book brought to life in a way I hadn’t even dreamed of. This spring, I had the incredibly unique opportunity of working with an entire 4th grade to turn my picture book into a play.
If you are ever looking for fresh ways to combine author visit with teaching artist, I highly recommend this. Both the kids and I had so much fun and learned so much in the process, and the product blew me away. But like all good learning, it didn’t come without challenges.
My book, Writing Home: the Story of Author Thomas Wolfe, is a picture book. It’s short. It has no dialogue. And it’s a biography, so it’s essentially a story about one person. The task at hand was to have 82 students write the script and act it out. And we had just five 45 minute classes to do it.
We got creative with it. We broke it into 16 scenes, which was cool because Thomas Wolfe got to be black, white, and Latino, male and female, tall and short. The students learned to extrapolate on what other characters might have been there, and what might have been said that wasn’t on the pages of my book. What they came up with was clever and entertaining.
When Grover died on stage, the mother threw a sheet over him and the narrator comically tossed a bouquet of flowers on top. When a circus rented out the boarding house, a student dressed in a clown wig stepped down from the stage to tell jokes to the audience. To show that Tom won a debate, the students wanted to base it in something that was real for them, so they staged a debate about whether or not toys should be allowed at school. And when Tom finally returned to Asheville, a British farm boy offered him “some milk, on the house!”
For many of the students, this was their first time in a play. In addition to figuring out how to adapt the book to script, we practiced staging, projection, and inflection. All of that in addition to overcoming stage fright.
But seeing them on stage, they totally let loose and had fun with it. And best of all, they felt successful. They felt a sense of ownership since they wrote their lines and staged their scenes, then got to see it come to life as we put their scenes together in front of an audience.