I’m a teacher in addition to being a writer and mother and grandmother and (the list goes on). As a professor and teacher educator, I was constantly engaged in research related to the history or curriculum, teaching, and school supervision. A pilot is essential in identifying potential problems with aspects of research and correcting them. So perhaps it isn’t surprising that when I neared the end of my almost-final draft of The Black Alabaster Box, I started thinking about piloting the book in much the same way that I had doctoral students pilot their research tools or curricula they developed. I was excited about finishing the book and eager to get it on its way to prospective publishers, but I decided to take out the time to find classrooms where a teacher would read the book to their class. After they had finished reading the manuscript I met with two of the classes and talked with them about what did and didn’t work. I’m glad I did.
One of the classes that I found was an urban public school in Baltimore County, Maryland. It was Katie Schmidt’s 5th grade.
It was a great and terrifying opportunity. Great because I knew I’d get good feedback from my target audience (other than myself–in the interest of full disclosure I confess that I write for myself first). Terrifying because what if they didn’t like it at all?
It was a good decision. I got great feedback from kids and teachers in pilot schools. Some kids thought the way I introduced the element of fantasy in the book was too abrupt. So I introduced an advance warning of magic afoot in chapter one. I upgraded Old Shep from your everyday, wonderful, loyal dog to a time traveler. These are just two of the ways that their feedback helped. More than anything, it let me know that I was on the right track and the book would find a welcome audience.
The entire class and I LOVED the first time when Ruby and Junior see inside the box and start talking with “Genie Lady” – some kids were laughing so hard at the interactions between them and Celeste, and it was so cool to see their incredibly opposite backgrounds and upbringings showing through in their interactions. The kids also liked how Bessie and Junior were brought back into the story much later, after seeming like their part was over.
I think Ruby and Junior (or Bessie to the class) are two of the most horrid people ever–the kind you love to hate. I’m not exactly sure where they came from! I was sitting at my brother’s dining room table in Lawrence, Kansas when suddenly, there they were, looking in the box. 🙂