Welcome, Ina Claire! It’s a treat to interview a scholarly author about the craft of writing for young readers.
ICG: I’ve received feedback from my stories, especially "The Test," published in Scholastic Scope. Because it was read in classrooms nationally, I had the good fortune to learn from various teachers that their students loved discussing the story and its moral dilemma. A quiet, teenage Mercedes has to choose between helping her handsome, popular boyfriend cheat on a final exam, or not cheating and losing him. She decides not to cheat and keeps her self-respect, even though she loses Carlos. Students identify with issues that apply to them: peer pressure, social acceptance, principles and the rights of love. I'm gratified there are teachers who've kept the story and still use it.
You've also written two books on Constructivist learning theory, which suggests that young readers learn best when they build a personal understanding with a story using their experiences and reflections. How can this approach be used to reach more young readers?
We often hear how reluctant readers don’t like the fact that books require them to just sit there and read passively. In what ways can parents and teachers use Constructivist techniques to make reading be more interactive?
ICG: Ask questions! They should range from literal understanding of what happens in the story to comprehension of the issues related to the reader. Then evoke critical thinking about the story: What are the higher principles at stake? Would you benefit from knowing the characters? Why or why not? Does anonymous kindness matter more than public acclaim? What does it mean to win or lose beyond appearances? Also, it’s best not to embed the answer in the question. Instead of "Did Mercedes value her self-respect more than she loved Carlos?" try "What did Mercedes struggle with?"
How can middle grade and young adult writers use Constructivist approaches in their in storytelling to engage young readers better?
ICG: A major Constructivist goal, whether in YA mainstream fiction, science fiction or fantasy, is for the author to consider events and themes that relate to young people, motivating them to critically think about life’s challenges. For example, are moral decisions fixed as an unbending principle, or conflicted between two opposing worthy actions, or dependent on extenuating circumstances? Whose needs take priority? Engage your readers so they can imagine what they would do in that same situation and for what reason. Try to create YA fiction with sparks for lively discussions or quiet, individual reflection that widens the young readers’ points of view.
As a sneak preview for our readers, what can you share with us about your upcoming novel?
ICG: It’s an all-ages fantasy brimming with real-life issues. A hero quest in a long ago time, with the flavor of Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea trilogy without wizards or dragons.
Thanks for an interesting interview, Ina Claire. We’ll keep an eye out for your upcoming fantasy book. All the best, Chris Brandon Whitaker!