As promised, here is another excerpt from my current work in progress: compiling my study guides and lecture notes into a book with a personal touch. This page is my first foray into children’s novels.
When I returned from Pakistan in the 1990s I did relief teaching as well as working in the Tyndale Christian High School helping ESL kids with their English-rich essays. One day a fifteen-year-old boy came in for guidance. As he put his bag on the floor it fell over and his books spilled out. One was Roald Dahl’s novel The Giant Peach that kids usually read in primary school. He stuffed that book back in his bag like a flash, his face colour heightened. I felt sorry for him; he needed easy-to-read books that had teenage content and covers.
Around the same time I relieved in a Year 1 class in an ‘at risk’ school. One little guy was jumping on the desks and when I asked him to stop he swore at me. His face bore a mixture of anger and fear as if he knew he would spend lunch in detention. He ran before I could say a word. I reported the incident and gave my five cents’ worth about the kid’s needs. On the way home I wondered how he would fare if he didn’t receive the help he required.
These two incidents meshed in my imagination and a fourteen-year-old boy who had trouble learning and controlling himself appeared. I worked hard to capture the ‘in-your-face’ personality of the six-year-old kid I met while developing a story with content for older boys that was easy enough for ESL kids to read. The boy’s name became Joel Billings. The first publisher rejected the MS because she didn’t like Joel as a person. I knew I was on to something. Kids with ADHD often come off second best; they generally don’t endear themselves to teachers or to other students. The publisher who did accept the book had been a teacher; she recognised Joel Billings and, like me, wanted to give kids like him a chance to be a good mate.
This, The Keeper, was my first novel for younger readers but it didn’t start that way. I thought it would be lower end YA but the publisher suggested that Joel be twelve instead of fourteen; that it be a book for younger readers rather than older, since the text was easy enough for them to read. In payoff I asked if the cover could portray the man, Dev Eagle, as well as Joel. I wanted older boys who couldn’t read well to be able pick it up without embarrassment. Since then it has been used in workshops and classes where kids like Joel can enjoy and benefit from it.
One upper primary class I visited had six boys with ADHD. They had all read The Keeper. As I walked in one boy bounded up to me. ‘How did you know so much about me?’ he asked. It was a good day.