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By Susan J. Berger

I volunteer as an after-school homework helper at the North Valley Care Center in North Hills. What do I get from it? A chance to interact with the kids I’m writing for. And a chance to introduce them to the world of authorship.

I believe every child has stories inside. Most younger kids’ imagination skills exceed their ability to write out their stories. Were you one of those kids? I was.

My head was full of stories and I would tell them to anyone at the drop of a hat. But writing them down? Not so much. Writing was hard. And I couldn’t spell a lot of the words I wanted to use. One of my joys is helping children get a story on paper. Many of them love to write stories as long as they can dictate them to another person.

When their homework is done, I ask the children if there is anyone who wants to write a story. I write their stories down, take them home, and put it in a printable book template. The stories vary in length. I have three templates, which I got from the Ruby Slipper Sisterhood post on mini Booklets: 8 page template, 12 page template and 16 page template.

To get them started, we use a story prompt, such as:

On the way home from school you see a ________  on the ground. What does it look like? Your best friend says, Thats a magic __________. You pick it up and realize its no ordinary ________ . Because it talks. You get three wishes,the  ________ says.  And no wishing for more wishes. Or you lose a wish.” 

Today my story teller was Julissa Alvarez. She told me her story, “The Frog and the Child.” I read it back to her. I pointed out we had a frog problem. She had the frog possessing three separate people at the same time. Julissa thought it over and rewrote the story.

When I bring it back to her neatly typed and stapled into a book, she may illustrate it. The kids who’ve dictated their stories to me are all proud of their books. They feel like real authors. David Tapete is next. He’s working on a retelling of “Hansel and Gretel.” But, as he pointed out to me, it’s not the same story because he’s adding and changing details. Is David an author? Oh, yes! I expect great things from him.

I usually end my school visits by reading a book my nine-year-old son and I wrote together — Jamie’s Dream. (It was published when Christopher was twenty-five.)

What do the kids get from this? Reading their own words seems to increase their reading comprehension. Also, when they grow up, they may remember that an adult listened to them and thought their words important enough to write down. Maybe some of them will continue writing. And that makes me happy. Now you try it. Go hunt up a child and make them tell you a story. You’ll both learn a lot.

BONUS: Here’s Julissa’s story. (Remember this is draft 1.5!)

The Frog and the Child
by Julissa Alvarez

The child found the frog in the backyard. And the frog says, “hi.”

She gets scared because she did not know it was a talking frog. So she told her Mom to come and see the talking frog.

And the frog was not there because it was inside the house because they left the door open.

And the frog jumped on Dad’s head.

The Dad felt something on his head.

The frog said, “hi.”

So the Dad threw it in the trash can.

But the frog was still alive and got out of the trashcan and got on the child’s head and the child was screaming because it got on her head.

She told her Mom, “Take it off!”

The frog jumped on to her Mom’s head.

Her Mom said, “Get off my head! I don’t want you to lay eggs and make a lot of frogs.” She took it off her head and put it outside and locked the door.

Then the frog hopped on top of the house and came down the chimney.

The Dad left and the frog transformed into the Dad.

The frog was acting like the Dad.

The child said, “Bye, Dad. I love you.” She kissed the Dad on the cheek and the Dad transformed back into the frog.

The child screamed. “Mom! Mom! I kissed a frog.”

“What?” said Mom. “Go brush your teeth and clean your lips and put lip balm on it and go do your homework. I’ll be in to talk with you in a minute.”

The girl washed her face and brushed her teeth and went to her room.

The Mom came in and said, “Sweetie, when your real Dad comes in, tell him what happened because you kissed a frog.”

When her Dad came in, he said, “What? We’d better get you to the doctor because the frog made your lips big.”

The child said, “The frog possessed me. How do we get it out?”

The frog inside her said, “If you fight me and win, I have to get out of your child and make her nice like she used to be.

The frog was mean.

The Mom and Dad made a plan.

The Mom said, “Frog, look. Your babies are growing up in the bucket in the backyard.”

So the frog got out of the child and the child was as nice as she used to be. And the family lived happily ever after.


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Susan writes children’s books as Susan J Berger and romances with older heroines as Susan B. James. Her latest picture book is Mom, Is there a Santa Claus.  Log on Log, is under contract to Beach Lane books. Susan‘s other career is actingShe blogs at the recently idle Pen and Ink.

Images provided by Susan J. Berger.