Jun. 2, 2018
Eyes on Rockridge: Writers -- Young and Older -- Pursue 'Good Storytelling'
By Judith Doner Berne
By Judith Doner Berne
By Lily Richman
Who said the printed word is a dying art form? Thousands of southern California teens flooded Santa Monica High School on Saturday, May 5 to prove them wrong.
The atmosphere at the fourth annual YALLWEST Festival for young adult literature was celebratory. Celebrating creativity and imagination. Celebrating language and ideas. Celebrating a place where reading is cool. Blue and yellow balloons, loud music and bright sunshine greeted visitors. And books. Tents and tents and tents of books.
Author and festival co-founder Margaret Stohl said, “This was our fourth and biggest year! The best part is always the community. It’s the feeling in the air, the joy, the love that everyone in our YALL empathy army has for each other.”
Long lines of enthusiastic book lovers of all races, ages and sizes spiraled across walkways, quads and parking lots.
Tents featured book publishers like Penguin Teen, writing programs like Writopia and Interlochen, book sellers and specialty shops like Hi De Ho comics and Book Beau for reading accessories. In addition to panels, book purchasing, signing, and games, like Family Feud, there was also an organized game of quidditch.
Almost 50 panels and discussions were held throughout the day, covering a wide range of topics. “This was the most diverse author list we’ve ever presented, and we are super proud of our festival for prioritizing inclusive paneling,” said Stohl.
At the “Basketcases” panel, authors shared intensely personal stores about depression, self-esteem and creativity, as well as navigating LGBTQ+ issues amidst a heteronormative culture. “Something about the honest acknowledgment of how hard it is to be human in 2018 just really appeals to me,” said Stohl.
During the “YA Goes Hollywood” panel, authors Becky Albertalli, Jenny Han, David Levithan and Angie Thomas discussed the highs and lows of having their books turned into major motion picture movies.
In the “Ripped from the Headlines” panel, authors shared their insprirations for writing. Jay Coles talked about Trayvon Martin’s death being a galvanizing force, while Kody Keplinger talked about school shootings, explaining how her own experience in a lockdown influenced her writing. Many panels celebrated publishing’s new interest in marginalized writers and voices.
People came together united in their appreciation of literature. Authors Tomi Adeyemi, Marie Lu, Gayle Forman and Veronica Roth were exceptional draws for the crowd.
But mostly, YALLWEST offered teens a community where they can gather with other people who share their passion for characters and stories.
In a climate where libraries are closing and we are told that teenagers would rather watch a show than read a book, festival attendees’ passion for literature was abundantly clear. At YALLWEST, authors are revered like celebrities, and readers are treated to swag, signings and tasty food.
Throughout the day, many festival-goers retreated from the action to do what they love most: book in hand, they found a shady spot to read.
By John Roche
The first half of this year has been one long magical moment for the classic novel A Wrinkle in Time, and Katonah resident Léna Roy has been at the heart of it.
Although first published in 1962, the science fantasy novel by Madeleine L’Engle, beloved by young readers around the globe, is perhaps more popular than ever these days, thanks in large part to a film adaption released in March starring Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, and other top-tier stars, as well as a new biography of L’Engle, Becoming Madeleine, written by Roy and her sister, Charlotte Jones Voiklis.
While millions of young readers have fallen in love with A Wrinkle in Time over the past half-century, along with the other 59 books L’Engle wrote before her death in 2007, Roy and her sister have an even deeper bond with the author: L’Engle was their grandmother. “Working on this biography of our grandmother was such a gift,” says Roy, who has called Bedford home for nearly a decade—first living in Bedford Hills before moving to the hamlet of Katonah.
Roy, a local writing instructor and the author of a young adult novel, Edges, and her sister, who manages L’Engle’s literary legacy, tapped into never-before-seen photographs, letters, and journal entries spanning from L’Engle’s childhood until just after the publication of her first novel to tell their grandmother’s personal and professional story. “Being able to incorporate her own voice into a narrative about her life was priceless,” Roy explains. “We really felt that she was with us every step of the way, and it brought us all closer. Working on Becoming Madeleine also brought me to a deeper understanding about death and how we never really lose the people we love. Even though we knew her in her 60s, 70s, and 80s, the voice in her journal entries from when she was 12, 14, 17—or even age 31—was so familiar and endearing to us. It was so her!”
A Wrinkle in Time follows the adventures of a young girl, Meg Murry, who along with her younger brother and a friend travel through time and space in search of Murry’s father, a notable scientist, who has been imprisoned on another planet by evil forces. At its core, the fantasy novel is a story of good versus evil, with Murry and her two traveling buddies battling against a looming darkness called the “Black Thing.” But Roy believes it’s much more than a coming-of-age story. “It’s not a simple story about self-actualization,” Roy says. “Yes, each one of us has the capacity to do great things, but why and how does Meg rescue her father? Because he loves her and she loves him. Meg eventually learns that there is much more at stake than her own problems, and that she needs to find what’s truly inside her, including her faults, to overcome the darkness and evil.”
Becoming Madeleine, like L’Engle’s iconic novel and the star-studded Disney film adaptation still in theaters, is largely targeted to middle schoolers and high-school-aged kids. Roy has plenty of experience with that age group, as she’s been working with young people through the non-profit Writopia Lab since 2009, first in New York City and now in Bedford and beyond.
Roy says her work with the national program that centers on helping young people find their own voice through writing helps her find her own writing voice, and is something L’Engle would surely be proud of. “My Gran believed that tapping into our creative juices is the way we become empowered, and it is through writing that we learn to communicate our thoughts and feelings effectively,” explains Roy, who as a regional manager of Writopia helps run four labs for kids and teens in Bedford Hills, Hartsdale, and Nanuet in New York, and another in Stamford, Connecticut.
“Writopia Lab’s mission is to spread joy, literacy and critical thinking through creative writing,” Roy says. “I feel so fortunate that I get to provide a space where young people feel safe to explore and expand their thinking.”
As to why her grandmother’s debut novel has not only stood the test of time but is currently going through such a resurgence in popularity, Roy pointed out that the metaphor of hope and light overcoming the threat of evil and darkness is as relevant today as when A Wrinkle in Time came out more than 50 years ago. “We always need stories that give us a sense of hope and purpose,” she says. “We always need reminders that we are part of that cosmic struggle, and that we matter.”
By Julie Anderson
Who says that writing can't be fun? Certainly not Writopia Lab, a nonprofit that just started a Bay Area chapter. Like its name suggests, Writopia brings a playful even whimsical approach to writing where professional writers encourage students to find their voices by engaging them in creative exercises. Kids and teens in small, age-appropriate classes write stories, craft plays, compose poems, and generally express their own creative visions. The main classroom is a cozy, wood-paneled space in Rockridge with comfy, dark green swivel chairs and a marble-topped table, but workshops are offered as far afield as San Francisco, Campbell, and Walnut Creek. Prices for the 10-week workshops are on a sliding scale, and no one is turned away for lack of funds. Contact RegisterBayArea@writopialab.org for more information.
By Meghan Leahy
Q: My son, a fifth-grader, is a sensitive, thoughtful kid who gets along with just about everyone but has no best friends. We used to do after-school play dates, but we have largely stopped them because when I ask whether he wants to have a friend over, he routinely says no. His preferred after-school activity is to read for a few hours. I am worried that he is missing out on bonding with his peers. I, too, am an introvert, so I also worry that I am adversely influencing him because I am all too happy not to have to actively arrange his social life. Should I step up my efforts and invite friends over? My son usually has a very good time one-on-one with people, although it wears him out. He is involved in some activities, so he interacts with peers elsewhere.
A: I am frequently asked about sensitive and thoughtful children. Parents, it seems, worry that these children are not being “socialized,” and they feel guilty as a result. The parents who seem to have the most guilt are the ones who tend to be sensitive and thoughtful themselves. That’s because introversion has only recently been recognized as an acceptable and even normal temperament (thanks to the work of Susan Cain, among others). Many introverted parents were raised thinking they needed to get out there and make more friends.
It’s rare to find adults in their 30s or 40s who were raised as accepted introverts. Most of them have endless stories of feeling pressured or being bullied into an extroverted lifestyle. And even though they were miserable growing up, they will often raise their own introverted children this way. It doesn’t sit well in their hearts, but introverted parents often give in to the social pressures that dominate our culture and push their children to be the perfect American go-getter.
On the other hand, I hear you. Learning how to get along with and be around others is an important life skill. Even in our increasingly digital and remote world, we want our kids to be able to work in groups and communicate with a variety of people. Watching your child sit quietly at home understandably evokes worry that he will be left behind socially, academically and even romantically. I would agree with the validity of these worries if your child were suffering mightily in school and refusing outside activities. But from your note, it sounds as if your son is engaged in school and otherwise. Although our culture appears to value deep friendships, many people have only one or two good friends throughout their lifetime, with many acquaintances. So when you mention that he “gets along with just about everyone” and that “he is involved in some activities,” I don’t worry.
Your key question is whether you should invite your son’s friends over.
I say no.
If he doesn’t want the friends to come over, you don’t want to arrange it and he is functioning well in his life, there is no need to make both of you miserable. It sends the message that your son isn’t good enough and that we should go against our nature to fit in with what we think the world wants. Although forcing an introvert to become an extrovert is a tale as old as time, it often leads to depression and anxiety.
If you begin to feel as if your son is spending too much time alone, look into programs such as Writopia Lab, where children who love to read and write can spend time together, working on an assortment of projects. These classes are communal and quiet, fulfilling the needs of introverts quite nicely. You could also plan a monthly activity for him, such as inviting one friend over for pizza and a movie on a Friday night. In fact, you could venture out of your own comfort zone and have some friends over, too. Nothing dramatic or fancy, just a simple get-together.
Finally, although this may not be an issue, research has shown that children who spend a tremendous amount of time alone and playing video games can quickly begin to exhibit addictive behaviors. Because games — especially online multiplayer ones — affect the reward centers of the brain and make it feel “connected” to others, many parents have a hard time helping these children interact with the real world. I am not saying that introverted children always become addicted to screens; it is just something to keep in mind as your son gets older and screens become a bigger part of his world.
For more information about introversion and children, read “Quiet Power: The Secret Strengths of Introverted Kids” by Susan Cain. To learn more about screens and children, read “i-Minds” by Mari Swingle. And no matter what, remember that the world needs thoughtful, sensitive children to grow into thoughtful, sensitive adults. As long as you keep exposing your son to the world and having interesting conversations with him, he will grow into the man he is meant to be. Be confident (in an introverted kind of way). Good luck.
By Sarafina Wright
Four young ladies from the SEED School in Southeast were recognized at this year’s Scholastic Art & Writing Awards for their contributions to the country’s longest-running and most prestigious writing recognition program for students in grades 7-12.
The poetry and stories written by the SEED School students — Shakayla Williams, 10th grade; Aaliyah Valentine, 10th grade; Mariama Dieng, 10th grade; and Jasmyne Bradford, 12th grade — received honorable mentions, and the girls were awarded writing scholarships from the Edward P. Jones Scholarship Fund.
“These writers are on fire! I am truly inspired by all of the amazing teens who wrote such vulnerable, funny, honest and amazing pieces — which were outstanding,” said Jocquelyn Downs, regional director for Writopia Lab and Scholastic’s D.C. Metro coordinator. “Writopia Lab is thrilled to produce these awards locally and loves being able to honor the next generation of writers in this way.”
Valentine said social issues of today inspired her poem.
“What inspired me to write this poem was because our class topic was community issues, and I felt as though police brutality was one of those problems,” she said. “Writing matters to me because it is a good way to get out your feelings.”
D.C. had its own regional ceremony on Sunday, March 4 at the National 4H Conference Center in Chevy Chase, Md., during which more than 300 teens from the greater Washington area received recognition for their writing from the 2018 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards.
Award recipients received Gold Key, Silver Key or Honorable Mention. Gold Key pieces are submitted to the national level of competition and the top five submissions in the region were named American Voices nominees.
Other recognized writers from D.C. and Maryland include Isabelle Levine, 11th grade, of Potomac, who won an American Voices recognition; and seventh-grader Barbara Weaver of Bethesda, who won the Writer’s Center $100 Humor Scholarship.
By BWW News Desk
Writopia Lab's Worldwide Plays Festival is an annual Off-Broadway festival of plays written by playwrights ages 6-18 years-old and produced, designed, directed, and acted by New York Theater professionals.
Plays can be any genre-comedy, drama, horror, polemic, tragedy, historical, docu-drama, solo-play, interactive, sci-fi, or any other you dream up.
One challenge is that all plays must take place in ONE of the following places in a school:
School Classroom (can be any type of classroom--science lab, English classroom, kindergarten class, etc.)
School Office (can be any type of school office--teachers' lounge, principal's office, guidance counselor's office, etc.)
School Auditorium, Gym, or Sports Field
School is where people come to learn and come to teach, but it's also where people fall in love, come out, protest, and pray. It's where friendships are formed, where trust is broken, where people make the team and get cut from the play, where teachers are fired and heroes are made.
The competition is divided into the Elementary School division, the Middle School division, and the High School division. In all divisions, Off-Broadway productions will be awarded in the following categories:
Best Play/Musical Set in a Classroom
Best Play/Musical Set in a School Office
Best Play/Musical Set in a School Auditorium/Gym/Sports Field Scholarships
The top play in each division will be awarded the following scholarships:
High School: $1,000
Middle School: $500
Elementary School: $250
THURSDAY, 1 FEBRUARY 2018
Plays must be no more than eight minutes long (this is roughly eight pages, but all plays must be eight minutes or shorter, no matter the page count).
The play must contain no more than three characters.
Standard playwriting format NOT required.
The action of your play must take place entirely inside ONE space in a school. The space can be ONE of the following:
There can be NO set changes. The entirety of the play must take place in ONE of the rooms listed above.
By Caitlin Wolper
Some kids love traditional day camps and sleepaways, but others might seek shorter and more specialized sessions. Now there are more options than ever for a personalized summer experience; you can enroll your child in several camps for sessions as brief as one week. Despite their brevity, alternative-length camps overwhelmingly encourage creativity and individually-paced learning and development. Plus, plenty of kids out there have more than enough interests to engage in quite a few different summer experiences.
“Kids go through an enormous amount of material in a short period of time at our camp, and have fun doing it,” Steven Fink, the founder of SummerTech, says. A computer science camp located on SUNY Purchase’s campus, SummerTech is one of many that offer flexible scheduling; campers can attend as many one-week sessions as they desire, and can either attend during the day or sleep over in Purchase’s dorms.
At SummerTech, kids might stay a single week or an entire summer, but each camper moves through a curriculum at their own pace, guided by their counselor (never more than three campers to a counselor ensures an individualized approach). And while it might seem like short-term camps lack community, SummerTech often matriculates its campers into counselors—currently, 95 percent of counselors were once campers. Campers and counselors both have a hand in crafting curriculum: counselors through developing their own electives to teach, and campers through suggestion. All levels of experience are encouraged. “When the camper shows up, even in week three, they’re just starting where they start, and continue where they continue,” Fink says.
One-week sessions, while they may seem brief, give ample time for a deep dive into a topic or project. “Our kids are really yearning for deeper engagement, and I think most kids are,” Writopia founder and executive director Rebecca Wallace-Segall says. “I think kids are much more willing to and enjoy focus and deep engagement much more than adults give them credit for.” And such engagement and focus is paramount at Writopia, where children work on writing in multigenre workshops: according to Wallace-Segall, a week is the perfect amount of time to write one short story, one play, or a collection of poems.
“Our goal is always project development and completion,” Wallace-Segall says. A week gives young writers time to finish a main workshop project and also engage in two electives, such as songwriting, filmmaking, or graphic novels. Where she says electives are usually 45 minutes each (and more numerous) at other camps, they devote an hour and a half to each (and three hours to the morning writing workshop). Writopia also offers a playwriting and performance camp, as well as a two-week writing sleepaway in the Poconos.
ConstructionKids is another alternative camp that offers one-week sessions, where COO Tony Kent says, they “don’t prescribe what children build,” but rather they “give them projects involving those themes.” (Themes could be cars, skateboards, or other projects.) “We give them the parameters of what they’re doing, but then we want them to use their skills and creativity to take them in different directions,” he adds.
The camp’s hands-on education encourages imagination and problem-solving, as well as responsibility: though the projects are kid-friendly, the tools are very much real. “One of the reasons that we [have week-long sessions] is so we can introduce more tools and more projects [in that time], and the projects and what they design during the week will get more and more complex,” Kent says. Also, kids can move on to a new project after a week has passed. Often campers will return for the summer and take a class they’ve already taken; the freedom to find their own construction process allows them to attempt making something in a completely new way.
And if even a one-week session is too much for your child—or too much for you to plan—The Craft Studio has you covered. You can drop in any day you want, and no two days will be the same. The curriculum is always changing: it depends on the ages of the children in attendance on that given day and selected from several pre-prepared activities. “I think that it just opens the door for so many people who would otherwise not come in,” owner Lindsey Peers says. The Craft Studio can serve as a rainy-day backup or a camp for kids who just can’t commit to any camp session. “I think people sometimes just don’t love the idea of scheduling every minute of free time for their children,” Peers says. “I think they love the idea of being a little more flexible.”
By Laurel Graeber
FAMILY MEMOIR WORKSHOP at Writopia Lab (Dec. 27, 10 a.m. to noon). Many families preserve their memories through photos and videos, but Writopia Lab, a national organization offering creative writing programs to children and teenagers, has another suggestion: words. In this Manhattan workshop, each participating family member will write about the same shared experience, whether humorous or dramatic. Instructors will offer help, and the writers will share — without any critiques — their individual perspectives with their relatives and the group. One rule: No one can say, “That’s not how it happened!” (Registration is recommended.)