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Reading Matters

Doug Wilhelm is a full-time writer and an independent publisher in Weybridge, Vemont. His newest book is the novel STREET OF STORYTELLERS (Rootstock, 2019). His 15 previous novels for young adults include THE REVEALERS (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2003), which has been the focus of reading-and-discussion projects in well over 1,000 middle schools.

What middle schoolers have written in my pocket notebook

If you were to make another story Mr. Wilhelm I think I would be an interesting character because I am fabulous and myself. I am bold and out there. My name’s Nathan. I am friends with 8th grade girls middle popular. 7th grade popular girls, middle popular. I can’t ever be mean because I feel too bad after the fact. Guys that are jocks make fun of me and I am a good singer (decent), play trumpet, do drama, and that’s me.

That’s written in purple ink on a slip of notebook paper. On a school visit recently, a boy came up after a classroom session and handed it to me.

I visit middle schools often, and kids sometimes do hand me notes — or they’ll ask if they can write in my pocket notebook. I've generally shown them the notebook, as part of my talk, and explained how it’s a tool that I use. Ideas and observations go in the front — that's anything I might notice, especially in schools, or an idea that comes up. In the back goes information, like email addresses, where I've parked in an airport, and books that kids or teachers tell me I have to read.

An entry I make in the notebook, I'll tell students, could grow into something. You never know! It could become a detail, such as what it says on a kid’s t-shirt. It could give rise to a character. It could even become the idea for the story itself.

It's generally after a session like this, which moves from my opening talk to a Q&A and discussion, that a student or two may come up and either hand me a note or ask to write in the notebook. The notes they give me often feel private; sometimes a kid will hand me a tightly folded piece of paper and then flee. Nathan’s, above, didn’t feel that way. He spoke with me as he gave me the note, and clearly he wants to be a character. So I hope he won’t mind my sharing it.

And what happened was, his note stayed me for a while. It was in my car, where I’d read it after leaving the school. I left the note sitting in a cupholder, so I kept seeing it — and it got me thinking. All the kids who write in my notebook: in doing that, they're hoping to be heard, right? I mean, every kid wants to be recognized. We all hope to be heard.

So here are some of the things that middle schoolers have written in my pocket notebooks, over the last year or two:

My name is Julia. I can do lots of things: play the flute, draw, I’m an athlete, and an honors student. But I get very insecure. I’m trying to be more confident though. “I only hurts if I let it” is my motto.

My name is Nicole. My favorite saying is “There is always light in the darkness.”

People don’t have insecurities until society teaches them to.
P.S. My name is Alyssa S_____ :)

Ya, I’m not perfic but who is? You have no right to do this, what did I ever do to you? Ur one of the most popular kids, why do you waste your time with me?

I feel some girls feel threatened because I hang around guys that play sports. So they try and stop me by being mean. That happens to some other girls too but mostly me there’s one big clique that does this. And I try to be nice but it doesn’t work.
Life’s too short to stop laughing. So give a chuckle, smile, and never give up. Cuz if life is unlaughable, life has no purpose, tee hee!

Dear Mr. Wilhelm,
I can just hope that you still will write forever. “Never give up because life is too short.”

It’s your music.
It’s your clothes.
It’s your friends.
It’s your hair.
It’s your accent.
It’s your weight.
It’s your skin color.
Not theirs. Don’t let them wreck it.
7th grader

I’m Devon and I’m Blind and I get bullied a lot but my motto is ...
“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” That gets me through the day.

I have been bullied before but your book changed my life and I don’t like to read but I loved your book.
P.S. This is Sarah L_____
My idea:
You can make a new girl she likes the unpopular and the popular kids!
Elana B.

Forget me not? I say forget me, and remember the imprint I left. I’m important enough, and so are you. It’d do you good, because that is how the world views you.
Lyla S___

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