Friday, February 5, 2016

Reading Spotlight - Creativity On Display

Shayla Walker teaches 7th grade English Language Arts, and coaches girls basketball at Hills Chapel school in Booneville, Mississippi. Four years ago, shortly after its release, Coach Walker read my first novel, The Night Train, and decided to use it as part of her curriculum.

"I Chose The Night Train to help students understand there is a way to overcome bullying, abuse, and everyday obstacles." - Coach Walker

During the past four years, I have had the honor of speaking to a few of her classes. Meeting young people who enjoy reading is always fun. Meeting young people who enjoy reading a book I wrote is unforgettable.

In the spring semester of 2015, Coach Walker invited my wife and me to her class to judge the projects her students created based on The Night Train. It proved to be quite a task, as her students watch the video on YouTube). This year, in Mrs. Davis' class, Kason, Gregory and Jake took it one step further and created a diorama that includes not only the video, but a very detailed scene from The Night Train for the Reading Fair.
Kayson (left), Jake(right), Gregory (not pictured)
demonstrated an abundance of talent. Clearly they had paid attention to the book, because the scenes they recreated with their dioramas were very accurate. Three of her students -- Kason Whitehead, Gregory Murphy, and Jake Harris -- made a short video based on the book (

Their diorama placed 1st at Hills Chapel, then again at district. On February 13, 2016, they will participate in the regional competition in Oxford, MS.

Impressive isn't it? What if I told you they completed the project in only a week?

I'm told the train actually moves, but the rules require it to remain stationary during the competition.

Being curious by nature, I asked them why they chose The Night Train for their project instead of a book by another author. Jake said he likes the book, Kason said it is his favorite, and Gregory said because The Night Train is fascinating. Ok, I admit it was a leading question, but I love their answers.

I've been working hard to get my next novel ready for publication. The final stages of polishing and second-guessing can drain the creative juices. Seeing how creative Gregory, Jake, and Kason have been with this diorama has my brain racing again -- like when your heart beats really fast after an unexpected poke to the ribs. We all need a little nudge to keep moving in the right direction every now and then.

"We thought about it and made it happen." -- Kason

Gregory and Kason said they liked the book for its cliffhangers, while Jake liked the book's intenseness. Some of the subject matter of The Night Train is intense, but so is life.

"Students can learn to stand up for what they believe in. Don't back down, don't pity yourself, and most importantly, don't give up." -- Coach Walker

Coach Walker told me parental involvement is extremely important in a child's education. A child is more likely to become involved if he or she knows their parents are involved. Remember, your child sees you as a role model and will mimic your behavior, good and bad.

"I like to read action and mystery books." -- Gregory

Allow your child to discover their own likes and dislikes when it comes to books (as long as their selections are age appropriate). Pressuring kids to read something they don't enjoy may turn them off to reading and deny them the many benefits books provide. Reading stimulates a child's imagination and bolsters vocabulary.

"I don't read but I like books like The Night Train." -- Jake

Instead of forcing your child to read, let them see you reading. Show interest in their reading choices. Ask them to read to you from time to time.

I asked Coach Walker why she thinks reading is important. She quoted Dr. Seuss: "The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go."

Jayrod Nash and Arnold Wise certainly went a lot of places throughout the pages of The Night Train. While child abuse is certainly a strong theme throughout much of the book, the main message I hope readers will take from my novel is that abuse defines the abuser, not the abused. I didn't write a book about abuse ... I wrote a book about a boy who, as I came to know him throughout the many drafts, told me he was being abused, and he wanted me to tell you.

"I have always wanted to help children the way most of my teachers helped me. Seeing the expression on a child's face when something "clicks" is a wonderful feeling." -- Coach Walker

What expression will you put on your child's face? Think about it.

I hope you will join me in wishing Jake, Kason, and Gregory the best of luck at regional. Regardless what happens there, they are already winners.

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