Children’s author J.A. White visited with fourth-grade students in our Beasley Studio this week. The timing is perfect: White is the author of hit ‘spooky’ stories including Nightbooks and its sequel Gravebooks. He’s a third-sixth-grade teacher when he’s not busy writing his books, and he credits being around children daily with helping him be a better writer and writing with being a better teacher.
White spent some time discussing his books with our students and shared information about where his writing ideas come from, historical interests, “creepifying” normal things, and always being ready for an idea if it “pops in your head” at random. He talked about why he writes spooky stories, including personal childhood experiences which contribute to his interest in this genre of writing. He even dug into publishing and how it looks different from one author to the next and shared his own challenges early on as a writer attempting to publish books. Finally, he discussed why he became a writer and how he’s had a passion for reading and writing since childhood. For White, writing is a productive activity and creative outlet which piqued his interest while not waking his father (who worked a graveyard shift) during the day.
He told the students, “Writing is never wasted,” explaining the value of all parts of the writing process and the value of determination throughout. Even if a story doesn’t pan out the way we hope, it’s always a process we can learn from in order to create more satisfying stories in the future.
White’s bestseller Nightbooks has been turned into a film by Sam Raimi, and he talked about that experience. “It was interesting to hear about his motivation for Nightbooks as a parallel between himself as a childhood writer, and the main character, Alex,” said Lower School Librarian Thomas Buffington. “It was also interesting to hear about the ‘shadow school’ as inspired by a real school from his hometown.”
In preparation for White’s visit, Buffington has been working with the students on writing prompts available through the author’s website. This writing practice in the Library challenges them to create their own unique fantasy or ‘spooky’ short stories using provided ‘story starters’ or prompts for inspiration.
The class saved a few minutes at the end for questions, which included “What is your favorite book that you’ve written” and “What is the most spooky book you’ve written?” White shared his thoughts on both (Nightbooks for the first, and Thickety Book 3 for the second), and why.
“It was certainly a challenge and hard work from many teachers in the Beasley community to make this opportunity happen,” said Buffington. “However, it was totally worth it in the end, as it’s easy to see that our students may take inspiration from visits like this in their own creative writing journeys. Our Beasley friends left the presentation excited and motivated to continue their own creative writing and read more of J.A. White!”
MICDS thanks Mr. White for sharing his time with us, and Ms. Desiree Schuman for reaching out through The Novel Neighbor, a local bookstore with whom we hope to partner for future opportunities. Buffington also expressed appreciation for students and teachers for their enthusiastic participation and collaboration. “It is my hope that students will continue to practice writing skills, hopefully incorporating some of his tips in their future writing this year at Beasley and as they grow into middle school,” he said.