Visiting authors are an important part of the Junior School's literacy program. During the Writer-in-Residence visits, students from Senior Kindergarten to Grade 7 have the opportunity to learn with authors through readings and workshops. This January, we were thrilled to welcome New York Times bestselling author Julie Berry, to the Junior School.
Julie specializes in historical fiction for youth - one of the CHS library’s most popular genres - and this year it was Crofton House students who inspired Julie Berry’s arrival. Students were reading Julie’s books and “it was a great influence in having her. Her book for Grade 6 and 7 students, The Lovely War, is one of our most popular historical fiction, with elements of fantasy, romance and mythology woven in,” said Sophia Hunter, Junior School Teacher Librarian.
Capturing the Mind
Fiction has the freedom to entertain, capturing the mind through stories and conveying facts and knowledge about the world around us.
Julie’s framing of the story in her novel, Lovely War, narrated by Greek gods, instantly captured student interest. “I started reading Lovely War because I found the perspective of Greek gods to be interesting. I haven’t read many books about war but listening to her talk encouraged me to, I found the history behind the war very interesting information including how her own family was affected by it,” shares Cecily, Grade 7.
“I truly feel that my most important job is to entertain. I want my stories to be their own reward. I take that seriously. A lot of it has to do with empowering girls and encouraging girls to develop their skill with language because language is a power with a democratic quality,” says Julie.
Empathy and its Applications
In Julie’s interactive presentations, she harnessed students’ creative thinking by developing the ability to approach their writing process with empathy.
“When creating something new, I try to allow the brain to do whatever it wants, I try not to impose any judgement on the creative process. What can be sad, though not surprising, is when learners vocalise a self-destructiveness about their work,” says Julie Berry.
With an awareness of how learners may lack self-empathy towards their own creative vision, in the ‘Develop a Story’ workshop for Grade 4 students, Julie encouraged students to elevate their creative ideas by sharing something they liked about their own work as well as sharing what they liked about two other students’ work.
“I was very strict in that there was to be nothing negative at all. Obviously, to produce works of professional quality, we need to have some pretty good critical judgement. But that is not how you develop a creator. You develop a creator by encouraging and praising what is and by encouraging them to love their work. It's that love and that positivity that creates the confidence to make something,” says Julie.
Expanding Reading and Writing
When asked what they appreciated most about the Writer-in-Residence program, students were excited to share their thoughts.
“There are a lot of books in the library and you don’t get to appreciate all of them. Beyond a fun, hands-on way of learning, Writer-in-Residence brings to light a lot of books we have in the library, introduces you to new genres and makes you interested in reading more books!”, shares Amy, Grade 7.
Grade 7 students also shared how the Perspective workshop improved their ability to empathise and how they could relate this to other areas of their learning. “In Humanities we are learning about hunter-gatherers. We’re working on a project where we write a day-in-the-life of the people at that time. After Julie Berry’s presentation on perspective, it's easier to write their point of view, how they must have felt, and understand who they were,” concludes Amy, Grade 7.
In her final reflections, Julie shares, “The most important thing, to whatever degree possible for families, is to engage with stories together. Make shared reading a way of life, have books everywhere… never be anywhere without a book. The more that children see their parents read, the more that reading is normalized.” And on ideas and writing, “Ideas are of incalculable value. I strongly believe there aren't any good or bad ideas, there's only successful or unsuccessful execution. So I just want students to believe their ideas matter, write them down, and do something with them, and have the audacity to believe that your idea deserves to be a book in the world.”