Wordplay makes things better

I suspect I love words as much as I do because from an early age, I was encouraged to be silly with them. Before I could read to myself, I was digesting the humour of Spike Milligan, Edward Lear and of course Lewis Carroll. This is one of the reasons I really enjoy doing children’s writing workshops — kids haven’t yet forgotten how to be silly. Adults often have; they need to warm into it.

This past term, I have been volunteering at the local primary school as one of a few visiting writers, poet Cody Heartz and Cecily Paterson being the other two. We work with the children in groups, encouraging their exploration of writing techniques inspired by their set texts. I got the ‘hard’ book, Nanberry, and we’ve had some studious, silent-but-for-pencil-scratching sessions accompanied by the sound of laughter, drifting over from Cody Heartz’s ‘fun’ book: Hatchet by Gary Paulsen. (Cecily’s group was usually inside, out of earshot.)

On the last visit for the term I was determined we’d have fun too. By this point in the year, everyone needs a laugh — especially since chicken pox has been doing the rounds in the valley. So, we wrote absurdities. You could try it too:

  1. Take a boring sentence – e.g. I ate my cereal.
  2. Swap the subject and object of the sentence. (Here the subject is ‘I’ and the object is ‘cereal’.)
  3. You have an absurdity! My cereal ate me. Now add more sentences and you’ll have a whole story of them.
  4. Ten points if you can tell me how Jackie French’s Nanberry: Black Brother White might have inspired this exercise.

Nanberry was an Honour book in the 2012 CBCA Book of the Year Awards. I made up my own exercises to fit the group, but there are teaching notes available online.