Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Gore, Graves and Curses: Or how to appeal to a room full of fifth graders

       Just prior to the recent Christmas break, I had the opportunity to speak to the fifth grade class at Mountain View Elementary near Warm Springs, Georgia.  The occasion was the school’s annual career day.  I had been asked to speak about my job as a lawyer and my endeavors as a published author.  I arrived at the school that morning to learn that the other speakers would include a fireman and a helicopter pilot.
I was clearly out of my league.
Nobody can compete with a helicopter pilot and a fireman.
Still, I was determined to give it my best shot.
My presentation about the practice of law was politely received, although, to be honest, they were probably exhausted from climbing all over the fire truck.  I asked if anyone had any questions.  Nothing.  I had completely lost my audience.  I shifted the discussion to my efforts as an author.  I told them that my novels involved William Shakespeare.  The air immediately left the room.  As great as Shakespeare may be, his name is not exactly synonymous with fun among fifth graders residing near Warm Springs, Georgia (or anywhere else I would imagine).  I had to think quickly.  The fireman, I could sense, was smirking at me.
      I knew what I had to do.
      Gore, graves and curses it would be.
      I explained to the fifth graders that at the time Shakespeare lived, one of the main entrances into London was by way of the London Bridge.  At the entrance to the bridge was an archway, on top of which were a series of iron spikes topped with the severed heads of criminals and traitors.  The severed heads served as a warning to all who entered the ancient city.  To make it appropriate for career day, I further explained that there was a man, known as the Keeper of the Heads, whose job was to care for and protect the heads.
       I then provided a brief description of Shakespeare’s grave in Stratford-upon-Avon, to include the fact that a curse is inscribed on it and that a skull looks down upon the grave from an adjacent wall.
I finally had their attention.  Gore, graves and curses seem to have that effect on fifth graders.
I saw my opening and quickly turned to a brief overview of my books.  I explained that they are mystery novels, and that the main character is a twelve year old girl who manages to solve a series of ancient mysteries.  I asked the members of my audience -- ninety-two fifth graders in all -- to raise their hands if they thought a twelve year old was capable of solving a mystery that the adults in the story could not solve.
There was no hesitation.
Every single fifth grader raised their hand.  They actually seemed offended that I would even ask the question.
My question, however, was not simply an effort to fill space or burn time.  Rather, the question was prompted by a very specific concern expressed by some adults who have read my books.  The idea that the mysteries are ultimately solved by a twelve year old seems to trouble them greatly.  They find the whole concept implausible.  I’m not quite sure why this particular element of my books -- which are fiction, I might add -- has gotten under the skin of these adults, but it has.
My stories were written with my own children in mind, not incredulous adults.
I wrote my stories because of the vast possibilities that I see in my own children -- and that I saw in the fifth graders that filled that room.
I wrote my stories because of the imagination, insight, intuition and ingenuity I see in my own children -- and that I saw in the fifth graders that filled that room.
I wanted to celebrate the willingness of children to try the impossible, to ask any question and to explore everything the world has to offer.
In my opinion, these are the very qualities that make a great detective.
I wrote my stories because I believe my children -- and a bunch of fifth graders near Warm Springs, Georgia --  are capable of solving great mysteries.

Deron Hicks lives in Warm Springs, Georgia with his wife Angela, daughter Meg and son Parker.  His first book - SECRETS OF SHAKESPEARE'S GRAVE -- was published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Children in September 2012.  His second book in the series -- TOWER OF THE FIVE ORDERS --  was published in October 2013.  You can follow Deron at Facebook or Twitter.

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