by IYWP intern Robyn Henderson
“If you could be the star of your own movie, who would play you and your friends?” I asked a small group of kids at the Jane Boyd Community House. Two boys, three girls, all between the ages of six and ten. One boy knew exactly who would be in his supporting cast. He specifically wanted Jesse Eisenberg to play one of the main characters, and wanted Kristen Stewart to play his love interest. He really enjoyed Twilight, he told me. I smiled and listened, and wracked my brain to figure out who would be a good actor to play me in my life-movie. Janelle Monae, I told him. Janelle Monae would play me.
I was so nervous. This was my first time ever volunteering with the Iowa Youth Writing Project, and on top of it all, I was working with kids in elementary school. I love writing and I love stories, but I didn’t have any idea how to make a group of six to ten year olds excited about writing. Fortunately, Mal Hellman, the site coordinator, and Katie, one of my fellow volunteers, know exactly how to do just that. Mal’s prompt for the day was to draw a picture of your favorite fictional character, and then imagine that you were the star of your own movie. What would the story be about? Who would play you? How would it end? The kids were really enthusiastic about writing and sharing their stories, and proudly held up their big, brightly colored pictures of themselves as they described their movies. Their ideas were hilarious, sincere and vivid, and a lot of them took their pictures home with them, to hold on to.
Each time that I go back to the Jane Boyd Community House, I am impressed by the focus and enthusiasm that each of the kids brings to these little projects. Whether it’s drawing their Halloween costumes and figuring out what they would do if they woke up the next day as the character they dressed up as, or drawing silly monsters and giving them names, the ideas they come up with, whether lighthearted or action-packed, are always great to listen to. When asked what she would do if she woke up in her Halloween costume, a girl who planned on dressing up as a bright pink monkey told us that if her mom didn’t recognize her, she would sing a song she made that only she and her mom knew about. A boy who wanted to dress up as Lil Wayne didn’t really see what the issue was. He’d go to school, perform at concerts, and come home for dinner at night, he told us. “I’ll make music and make money,” he said emphatically.
I have yet to design my own lesson plan for the kids at Jane Boyd, and the idea makes me almost as nervous as my first day of volunteering. But after coming back week after week, I know that these boys and girls can take almost any question and make a work of art out of it. And afterward, most of them will carry their stories and pictures back home in their backpacks and pockets, the same way that I’ve saved mine. It’s a reminder of a fun experience. Evidence that simple questions, when combined with blank sheets of paper, a multitude of color pencils, and inventive enthusiasm, can create something unique and wonderful.