Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Writing Tip Tuesday

My friend and mentor, Ann Cameron (who is brilliant and has many years experience over me) once told me that she thinks There's a Boy in the Girls' Bathroom by Louis Sachar is one of the best children's books ever written.

That book was published over 21 years ago.

I recently pulled it out of my teetering pile of books and started reading it again.

I was struck by a couple of thoughts.

One: Louis Sachar is a brilliant writer.

But the second thought that struck me was what a great character Bradley Chalkers is.

I am sure that kids adore him.

And here's my theory as to why: He's a lovable bad kid.

He says naughty things.

He does naughty things.

But he has a good heart.

Here are the first two paragraphs of There's a Boy in the Girls' Bathroom:

Bradley Chalkers sat at his desk in the back of the room - last seat, last row. No one sat at the desk next to him or at the one in front of him. He was an island.

If he could have, he would have sat in the closet. Then he could shut the door so he wouldn't have to listen to Mrs. Ebbel. He didn't think she'd mind. She'd probably like it better that way too. So would the rest of the class. All in all, he thought everyone would be much happier if he sat in the closet, but, unfortunately, his desk didn't fit.

Now, I don't know about you, but I love this kid already.

As the school day progresses, Bradley spends a lot of time scribbling, "sometimes on the paper and sometimes on his desk."

The pencil point breaks.

He tapes the broken pencil point to "one of the gobs of junk in his desk."

His desk was full of little wads of torn paper, pencil points, chewed erasers, and other unrecognizable stuff, all taped together.

[Is anybody else thinking Joey Pigza besides me?]

When the teacher hands back the language tests, Bradley has the only F in the class. He cuts his test paper into tiny squares. [Note: Remember this....it comes in again next week when I discuss this book again.]

I love that.

In the meantime, a new kid is introduced to the class. The new kid tries to make make friends with Bradley.

Bradley thought a moment, then said, "Give me a dollar or I'll spit on you."

End of chapter one.

Now, first of all, that is a killer chapter ending.

Tell me there is one kid on the face of the earth who would STOP reading at that point.

And tell me there is one kid on the face of the earth who isn't intrigued by Bradley Chalkers.

I'd bet my bottom dollar, most kids LOVE Bradley Chalkers.

He is a lovable bad kid.

I'm going to talk more about Bradley Chalkers next week, but my point for today is: take a good look at your main character.

Is he perfect?

Is he always nice? Always good? Always right?

If so.....come on, give the kid some BAD.

It doesn't have to be a lot - just enough to make him human (and lovable).

Quoted from There's a Boy in the Girls' Bathroom by Louis Sachar; Alfred Knopf; 1987


Mary Lee said...

...and every teacher has taught at least one Bradley Chalkers. I have about 4 of him this year...

Frances in Texas said...

This book is one of my all-time favorites in children's fiction. When anyone asks, I put it at the top of my list. The only other one I mention in the same sentence is Maniac Magee. (And since I was a children's school librarian, I did/do get asked about which books I have enjoyed!)