Alina as a young reader, lost in a book
I’m happy to have Young Adult author Alina Sayre as my guest on today’s post. I met Alina at Village House of Books in Los Gatos last spring during California Bookstore Day. Her spirit and enthusiasm were infectious, as you’ll see as you read on. Alina is the author of The Illuminator’s Gift, a fantasy novel for ages 9-14. This week is the launch of her second book in the series, The Illuminator’s Test. Please welcome Alina!
Interview with Alina Sayre, December 2, 2014:
Were you a reader as a child? If so, what types of books did you gravitate toward?
Absolutely! My preschool teacher surprised my parents when she told them I was already reading (in fact, I was getting in trouble for correcting her when she ad libbed at storytime J). The first book I can remember reading solo was Dr. Seuss’s One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. But after that I especially loved fantasy (Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy, C.S. Lewis’s Voyage of the Dawn Treader), fairy tales (“Beauty and the Beast” is my favorite) and historical fiction (I wanted to be Laura Ingalls Wilder so badly that my dad built a makeshift covered wagon for my eighth birthday party). Interestingly enough, these are the genres I still love most today.
Did your parents read too? Did you see them reading?
One of my favorite memories of childhood (and adolescence, for that
matter) is reading aloud with my family. My dad starting reading to us from his college copy of The Lord of the Rings when I was eight, and it’s been my literary inspiration ever since. I was so proud when I could read well enough to take my turn reading aloud. Now one of my favorite parts of being an author is getting to read aloud to kids. Especially for auditory learners or reluctant readers, reading aloud is a great way to express the drama that your imagination can find in a book.
Quite a few adults read YA fiction. Can you explain this behavior?
Secretly, adults (including me) are just big kids. While I do also read “adult” books, I love to read (and write) children’s literature because it’s a picture of a better world. Kids aren’t dumb, and they know that bad things happen in the world. Bad things happen in middle-grade and young adult books, too. But the distinction between good and evil is a little clearer, the story’s quest is a little better defined, and the hero or heroine faces life with a little more hope. Maybe we read children’s lit because we want to remember how to look at the world the way children do. Maybe the world would be a better place if we did.
How can we instill a love of reading, not just for content but for pleasure, in children?
One of my day jobs is as a private writing tutor, especially for kids who struggle with language arts. Of course I want my students to excel in reading comprehension and thematic analysis. But my biggest, long-term reading goal for these kids is to get them to love reading. Kids who read for pleasure read more, read better, and challenge themselves of their own volition, something no teacher or tutor can make them do. To that end, I start my reluctant readers with books that are a little below their reading level and on subjects that interest them. I’d rather a student have the experience of “mastering” a book and feel pleasure at the experience of reading than check off a box on their AR reading list. It’s a trade-off for long-term success, because a student who learns to enjoy reading is a student who will become a lifelong reader.
Can you relate a story where you convinced a reluctant reader to get through a book? How did you do it?
It’s key for students to understand that literature, especially classic literature, is not just a bunch of boring pages full of big words written by some old dead guys. The reason classics stay classic is that they speak to universal human experiences and help us learn to live. One of my favorite moments was teaching Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to a middle-school tech geek who has a bright future as an engineer and thought literature was so boring. We compared Dr. Jekyll’s transformative potion to modern-day technology: iPhones, Facebook, the Internet. Some people blame such technology for the problems in today’s world. But as we read through the book, we realized that the potion, like today’s technology, is just a tool, neither good nor evil in itself. It’s what people do with this powerful tool that determines whether its effects will be good or bad. It was the thrill of my life that when the student wrote his evaluation at the end of the year, he listed Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as one of his favorite books.
Are kids too distracted these days to really appreciate the world in a book?
Maybe it takes kids a little longer to learn to appreciate reading today, but I definitely don’t think they’re incapable of it. The fact of a world dominated by the Internet, texting, Snapchat, Instagram, and images rather than text is that kids are bombarded with a lot of information and not nearly enough time to process it all. Teaching them to work slowly through a book, especially one without illustrations, can be like training a couch potato to do crunches. The imagination is a muscle too. But literary enthusiasm is contagious. My students probably forget most of the information I teach about literature, but I hope they see my eyes sparkle when I talk about it.
I can’t remember many facts about The Iliad, but I remember a college professor who literally came to tears over Hector’s death. By the end of class, I was crying over Hector too. That moment impressed me deeply, and I hope to infect my students with the same contagious passion.
How does reading factor into your own creative process?
As I constantly tell my students, good writing comes from good reading. So I practice what I preach and read voraciously—kid lit, adult fiction, theology, psychology, biography, cereal boxes. I think reading multiple genres cross-pollinates my ideas and keeps me from getting stagnant. I hope this breadth of interests shows up in both of my books as the characters explore everything from chemistry to linguistics to navigation to manuscript illumination.