David Korinetz: The Art of Reader Raising
The Raise-A-Reader program has brought many local authors into classrooms throughout the South Okanagan, thanks in part to a generous donation by the Penticton Herald, and Canwest. I was invited to speak with some grade six and seven students about writing fantasy. Having just published my first fantasy novel six months before, my excitement was mixed with an equal amount of apprehension. Told to expect about thirty students, I never dreamed the number would swell to one hundred and ninety-seven.
Fearing that these young people would soon become bored with just my own experiences, I decided to talk about some famous authors as well; authors who I was familiar enough with to answer the inevitable questions with a modicum of credibility. Some might say that a man of my years wearing a big floppy wizard hat had already forfeited his credibility, but that's another matter. Tolkien and Rowling were obvious choices, but I also chose Christopher Paolini, because like me, this young man self-published his first book. I was so impressed with how he sold his books by dressing up like a medieval wizard that I borrowed the idea; hence the hat. Paolini, by the way, went on to become a millionaire when Knopf Books For Young Readers published Eragon in 2003.
Though I actually visited two different schools, one week apart, for brevity's sake I have blended both events into one telling. Once I had introduced myself and talked for a few minutes about my book, I asked who had read Lord of the Rings, or had at least seen one of the movies. The majority of the students quickly raised their hands. I then asked who knew that Tolkien had been an English professor. To my surprise some hands came up again. I was impressed. Then I asked who knew that Lord of the Rings was written between 1937 and 1948, which meant that Tolkien's epic Fantasy would have been influenced by the grim realities of the Nazi Blitz. This time there was not a single hand and I had their undivided attention.
Smiling, I held up one of Rowling's books. "Who has not heard of Harry Potter?" I asked. Every hand in the room remained lowered, save one. "You've never heard of Harry Potter?" I asked somewhat shocked. The student in question just smiled and shrugged his shoulders, so I walked up to him and held out the book. He accepted it, so perhaps I added one more to the millions and millions of Harry Potter fans who have enjoyed that series. The staggering volume of book sales alone should be proof enough that J. K. Rowling has done more to promote literacy among our young people than any of her predecessors.
To round out my talk about authors, I lifted up Eragon,
by Christopher Paolini, and asked who had read the book or seen
the movie. Again, nearly every hand was raised. That was expected,
but when I asked who knew Christopher was only fifteen
when he wrote the book, I hadn't expected to see so many hands
raised yet again. I suddenly realized that these young people knew
more than I gave them credit for. The
question period that followed was to take this revelation even
With just barely enough time left, I stopped taking questions
to read a short chapter from my novel. There was an
excruciatingly long pause after I closed the book, which was thankfully followed
by a round of enthusiastic applause. The experience left me so
charged with energy that it seemed like I was walking on air. As I
watched the students file out the door, on their way to the next class, I
finally understood why teachers do what they do.