Essay Question: Social Media and the Middle School Lunchroom – Compare and Contrast by Denis Markell
You know scene in countless movies and middle grade books, of the ‘new kid’ entering the lunchroom at school for the first time? That’s how I felt when I first joined Twitter.
Walking furtively with my metaphoric tray, I was overwhelmed with the sense that everyone else seemed to know each other already. There were private jokes whizzing past my head, acronyms and hashtags that were some private language I felt I would never understand.
As I cried into my pillow that night, I thought, “I’ll never fit in!” I wished we hadn’t moved from Ohio in the first place.
Okay, I made that part up. That’s how it felt, anyway.
So why was I here? What made me get on Twitter in the first place?
Unlike so many wonderful posters who have shared their stories on this blog, I am not a teacher or a librarian.
Nor have I gotten my MFA from one of the many fine programs that focus on children’s literature.
I come to writing books for children from a very different place.
My experience has been in theatre, with some television credits. Between jobs, I have been known to write funny things for celebrities to say for public appearances.
So although I have been writing professionally for more years than I care to admit, my joining the kid lit community has been a hugely different, and, dare I say it, far more rewarding experience than all of the other professional paths I have wandered down.
As the husband and sometime collaborator with my wife, the gifted (and wonderful in every way) illustrator Melissa Iwai, I had already gotten to meet and know a number of artists and authors from various events. I even did the odd school visit, which meant I met a handful of teachers and librarians.
But that did not prepare me for what was to come once I had actually gotten a literary agent of my own, which propelled my on the road which has led to the actual publication of my debut novel, which happens officially today of all days!
Once the book sold, my agent Holly Root (to whom I defer to in all things) and my editor at Delacorte, Kate Sullivan (who tells it like it is, whether I like it or not) both gave me a “strong suggestion”: if I wanted to reach my audience – the people who would actually read and talk about my book – I needed to join social media.
I had avoided this with a vengeance, fearing I would fall into its trap of sucking up all my time.
I did notice Melissa on Facebook forging priceless connections within the business, with artists and authors, which remain strong to this day.
But I knew that ultimately, for my needs, I had to go on Twitter.
I took a deep breath, and dove in. And here I was, back in the lunchroom.
Well, just like in the best middle grade stories, some nice girls waved me over to their table and introduced me to their friends. In this case, it was Kelly Light and Ame Dykeman.
Ame, blue-haired dervish of enthusiasm with a bad case of emoji overload, is an avatar for the kind of welcoming community that makes kid lit unique.
Little by little, I began to pick up on the teachers and librarians who are so vital to the online community.
I started reading Nerdy Book Club posts, which were a revelation to me.
Donalyn Miller writing on creating readers no matter what challenges you face (from budget cuts to resistant students) was so inspiring I could feel my horizons expanding.
Now, as the product of a Brooklyn Private School, I’m ashamed to say I had to overcome my prejudices and learn through the writings of people like Margie Myers-Culver, Matthew Winner, and of course the irreplaceable Mr. Schu, (among many others) that great teaching and libraries (and smart, smart students!) are not limited to the big cities and the larger communities, but can be found everywhere there is a person with a burning desire to get kids to read books not only in school, but for a lifetime.
And of course let’s not forget the tireless work of the Indie Booksellers!
Color me a total convert, who spreads this message wherever I go.
So thank you, Twitter, which can be a force for so much ugliness and hatred in the wrong hands, and yet so much goodness and connection for teachers, librarians, agents, editors, booksellers, artists and authors like me.
I will end with one last person, and a video many of you are familiar with: Colby Sharp telling his class how he loves to read:
If you’ve seen it before, this time -when you watch it: don’t look at Colby.
Look at the students.
I LOVE their faces.
These are internet-savvy, smart kids who I have a feeling don’t impress easily.
When Colby starts jumping on desks and yelling, I see some smirking – a few who might believe (like I once did before getting to know these amazing people) that this is “an act” Mr. Sharp does.
As he continues, it becomes clear: this is no act.
This is passion, this is someone risking looking ridiculous in order to reach each and every student in that room.
By the time the video is over, look at their faces. They are GLOWING.
And the thought that my book may someday be read by Colby’s kids, and students like them all around this country, makes me glow even fiercer.
Click Here to Start is Denis Markell’s first novel, and he took writing it very seriously, playing hours and hours worth of escape-the-room games for research (or so he told his family). He also cowrote an award-winning Off-Broadway musical revue and wrote a few musical comedies for the stage; various and sundry sitcoms; a play with Joan Rivers; an episode of Thundercats; two picture books illustrated by his wife, Melissa Iwai—The Great Stroller Adventure and Hush, Little Monster—and Poser, a memoir of his years as a male model.
(One of these things is not true.).
He lives in a small apartment in Brooklyn with Melissa; their son, Jamie; and a Shetland pony name Ronaldo.
(One of these things is not true.)
You can find him on Twitter @denismarkel.