Award winning author Laurie Halse Anderson Speaks to Middle School Students

Espi (grade 8) and Aisha (grade 8) write on the wise words and encouragement of author Laurie Halse Anderson during her video chat with 30 middle school students.
On Monday, January 21, Award-winning author Laurie Halse Anderson held a Skype call with 30 middle school students and teachers in the middle school library. She authored 12 books, some with multiple awards and honors. Books such as Catalyst won an Odyssey Book Award in 2002, and Chains won the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction in 2009.

Ms Anderson told middle school students that “Nobody writes a great first draft.” She reminded students that it’s perfectly okay to have a rough start when writing.

“Be gentle to yourself when writing,” she said.

“Just get some words down on the page,” she advised students. “If you procrastinate, the fear of writing will build up.” Ms Anderson said that her books usually go through seven or eight drafts before publishing.

Anne Rekate (middle school teacher) set up the interview and sent photos to Ms Anderson of her students holding up her books that they had read.

She wrote, “Laurie—just wanted to share with you because they have eaten up your books! We’ve been studying the American Revolution at The American School in Japan and these kids chose to read Chains, Forge and Ashes for their independent reading! They loved them!”

Ms Anderson immediately responded and offered to chat with Mrs Rekate’s students via Skype. They opened the session to any middle school student who had read her books.

Middle school librarian Tanja Kerbs was also very thankful for the opportunity as she tried to book Ms Anderson for an author’s visit in the past, but her schedule is usually booked solid about two years in advance.

Ms Kerbs took an interest in hearing her speak because she read Speak with her 8th-grade humanities class at Hong Kong International School and thought it was an amazing piece of work.

Despite all her success as a writer, Ms Anderson didn’t always have a passion for words. She was very open and honest about her struggle to learn to read. She finally overcame that challenge in 4th grade after receiving help from a reading specialist.

Once she developed her love for reading, she struggled to find books she could relate to. So she decided to write her own. This is how she gets the ideas for most of her novels. Ms Anderson writes about things that make her angry and confused. This can be seen in the Seeds of America trilogy, she said. The idea came to her when she learned that her hero Benjamin Franklin had owned slaves, even after the Revolutionary War. She was aghast and didn’t understand why it had happened.

“Words are my tool,” Ms Anderson said. She wants to use words to raise awareness about political and social issues. This is why her first novel, Speak, is so important to her.

Speak, published 20 years ago in 1999, is based on Ms Anderson’s own experience with sexual harassment and abuse. She used her talent for writing to educate not only girls, but also boys on the matter.

Speak has since been translated into 27 languages and was adapted into a film starring Kristen Stewart of Twilight fame in 2004. A graphic novel version of Speak was published in 2018.

One student asked if she were to write Speak in the age of the #metoo movement, what would she change. Ms Anderson said she would make it more relevant to today, incorporating cell phone and computer usage, but still keeping the basic structure of the story.

Though this book launched her career, her next big book Fever 1793 was rejected 13 times before being published. It then went on to win numerous awards and honors including ALA Best Book for Young Adults selection and a Junior Library Guild selection.

She told this story to remind students that they shouldn’t give up and keep working hard.

Even as a published author, Ms Anderson still has people that inspire her. Some of her favorite writers currently are award-winning authors Jason Reynolds and Elizabeth Acevedo. Jason recently wrote Long Way Down and Elizabeth wrote The Poet X.

She is still educating students and parents about sexual harassment issues now. During the week of her talk, TIME magazine published Ms Anderson’s piece, I’ve Talked With Teenage Boys About Sexual Assault for 20 Years. This Is What They Still Don’t Know.

In March, Ms Anderson will release her first poetry memoir called Shout. She has also teamed up with DC Comics to write a graphic novel about her hero, Wonder Woman.