Linda Sue Park
I have been writing for just about as long as I can remember. I could already read and write when I went to kindergarten. And you know how, in kindergarten, you have choice time, or free time? Whenever we had choice time or free time, I would always choose to write a story. My kindergarten teacher worried about that, and actually I remember also her once asking me, "Linda Sue, would you please choose to do something else today?" because she was worried about this. I have been writing as long as I can remember.
I have to say that I think I probably took the library for granted, because my father had been taking me since before I could walk, probably. For him, as an immigrant from a country that had been through a couple of very devastating wars, where libraries were not a real high priority, the libraries in this country were a miracle. He just couldn't believe it. He was 19 years old when he went into his first public library ever, and if you think about it, it's a very bizarre concept: "I can walk in and take whatever I want?"
"Yeah, yeah, sure. Just bring 'em back."
You know, you can't do that with anything else, and it's really kind of an alien idea.
All of my favorite books were, for me, exotic stories. I would include in that something like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I was a Midwestern, suburban girl. I lived in a small town near cornfields, and Brooklyn was exotic to me. It was this big city, which I had never lived in, and Francie Nolan lived in this tenement, which was a very different setting for me. And, yet, she loved the library, and she loved to read. So, finding something in common with people who lived in very different circumstances was by far the most rewarding thing for me.
And I think that's what books can do for young people. They're a bridge. They're a way to get to know people who are very different and to say, "But wait. In a lot of ways, they are like me."
It wasn't until I was grown and had children of my own that I realized, "Oh, there's probably just a treasure trove of stories in my own family that I've never looked into."
Some young people may come to that much sooner than I did, and they may well be interested in, "Grandma," or, "Grandpa, tell me about when you were young." "How was it different in whatever country you lived in?" And if that's the case, wonderful. Write them down. Oftentimes, it's grandma and grandpa, or even your parents who can't write in English, or can't speak in English, and can't share those stories in the way that you can. You can help, even if it's only writing down a story or two of your grandparents that you then just show to the rest of your family.
Reasons for writing
My daughter kept a swap journal, which I think is a wonderful idea. She would write something, - a letter, a poem, a little story - and this was when she was in third or fourth grade. She would give the journal to her friend when she'd finished, and her friend would write something back, either a letter back, another poem, or something completely different; they didn't have to follow up on what the person before had written, and then she'd give it back to my daughter. Each time, they'd keep the journal for three or four days. They kept that journal going for the entire school year.
So, somebody else was reading what my daughter had written, and I think that, for many people, that's another reason to write. It is an act of communication. You want someone else to read what you've written.
I ask the young people to try to take writing and put it in the same compartment in their head where sports and music lives, to say, "Oh, yeah. Of course. In order to improve at writing, I'm going to have to repeat, or write the same thing again, and try to improve it each time." I ask them to try to take it for granted that writing belongs in that same kind of category so that they don't say, "Oh, no. I have to rewrite this," but, rather, they say, "Oh, well, duh. Of course have to rewrite it. It's not gonna be good the first time." So, I ask them to try to think about writing in a little bit different way.
Remember the stories
What I've always said was my dream is to be a fly on the wall, or maybe dead and floating around wherever dead people go, and to hear a young person, or any reader, say, "Oh, I've just read this fantastic book. It's by - it's by - oh, I can't remember who it's by, but it's about " and then they go and talk about my book. I think the stories, again - stories, in general - are much more important than any one person as an individual. I don't mind if people forget my name - as long as they remember my stories.