My readers were 6th, 7th and 8th graders at Crossroads Academy. There were boys and girls, Jews and non-Jews. I gave each student a copy the current draft of my book Tutti & Popje and a red pen. Unfortunately, time did not allow for them to read the entire thing. Most of them got about 20 pages in. Given that, their comments fell into 5 categories:
1 – The Concrete/Small Details
- Switching between 1st and 3rd person, formatting, spelling.
- Awkward sentence structure.
- Suggestions for the glossary
2- Writing Style
They wanted to see more suspense, more detailed descriptions of certain characters, and better transitions between chapters. They asked questions like “what is the point of this chapter?” and “does this section really add to the story of the holocaust as a whole?” One student said I needed to “switch up the syntax,” while another suggested that I use “more sensual adjectives to give the reader a feel for how the author/narrator felt.” Seeing these comments I felt good about my children’s teachers and what they had given these students as a basis for both reading and writing literature.
3 – Cultural Questions
I described a road in Amsterdam as having a tram track down the middle. The note in the margin says simply “what is a tram track?” I will have to look through a bit more with the eyes of an American child who has no experience with trams and other bits of European mid-century items and customs.
4 – Compliments
- They mentioned liking the details of daily life during that time.
- One reader pointed out a particular chapter as moving and poignant.
- Somebody liked the family photos.
- Several liked the parallels and comparisons I included.
5 – Historical Questions
These are the questions that empowered me. It meant that they were reading beyond the story and getting into the ethical questions of the times and the historical context of the lives of real people.
One student scrawled in the margin: “Why can’t the Jews do these things?” in a section in which I wrote about the Nazi rules keeping the Dutch Jews out of theaters, parks, etc. What a great question to lead a history class. I don’t want to answer the question in the book. I want my readers to walk away with this question. I want them to ask themselves why one group of people would restrict the rights of another group. I want them to question prejudice and bigotry. I want them to ask themselves if they would participate in such segregation and what they can do to prevent it in the future.
Another asked: “Why was metal important?” Another absolutely wonderful question. On one hand metal is important for my family as it is through the metals industry that my ancestors survived. On a more global level this question can lead to a class discussion about raw materials, national resources, the control of ports and airfields, and various industries which support local economy and welfare.
I am feeling that the first read by a real audience was a success, especially since several students asked if they could keep the draft to take home to read as they hadn’t had time to finish it in class. It really doesn’t get any better than that!