Everybody writes a novel

San Jose sixth graders are writing their own novels for National Novel Writing Month, reports the San Jose Mercury News.  They favor “knights, talking dogs, ninjas and children embarking on quests to save their families — or the world.”

. . . Albert Joo is chronicling the adventures of a necromancer, a kind of wizard, told from the viewpoints of a knight, a vampire and a vampire hunter. That may seem complicated, but 11-year-old Albert said, “It’s honestly a pretty basic story.”

. . . While participation in NaNoWriMo has no prerequisites, J.F. Smith students come prepared. All classes at the Evergreen district school emphasize writing. Sixth-graders start the school year writing a personal narrative and learn about including sensory details and scenery. They progress to fiction, but it has to be based on a real problem — like an annoying younger sibling — so they can write in detail. Later they’ll write a speech.

Last month they started planning their novels, ranging from 6,000 to 35,000 words. That’s 24 to 140 pages — short for a novel, long for them, (teacher Linda) Ulleseit said. She has them depict their outlines as a roller coaster, sort of an inverted U, detailing plot, characters and goals.

It’s easy to get ideas,” 11-year-old Sahith Narala said, “but it’s hard to put it into words.”

Ulleseit plans to submit her class’s work to the self-publishing site CreateSpace to print an anthology. Royalties of 56 cents per book — she anticipates sales to “moms and dads and grandmas” — will go back into the classroom budget.



About Joanne


  1. Michael E. Lopez says:

    The teacher does not own those copyrights and cannot do anything with the royalties without express permission, even she edits (as the article indicates).

    Perhaps she has such permission, or perhaps its such a small matter that no one cares.

    But students own their work, and if they want to donate to the classroom, they’re welcome to.

  2. I absolutely ABHOR the recent trend to require kids to write journals and fiction. I am a life-long bookworm but never have had any desire to do any public journaling or to write any fiction. Don’t teachers realize that many kids feel that journals are an invasion of privacy and writing fiction is not an equally-distributed desire or ability? For some kids, including mine, writing fiction is pure torture and an unnecessary one; one can be very well-educated and a very good writer without ever writing fiction.

    • Soapbox0916 says:

      Part of education is doing things that we abhor. It is not all about what we enjoy doing.

      • Absolutely; that’s why schools should concentrate on those things central to a good education. I don’t see writing fiction as central to education. Being able to write correct, clear prose, whether scientific, literary, historical, business (resumes etc) or personal (thank-yous, notices, directions etc) is central and should be the primary focus. Some assignments could have different options, allowing some kids to write fiction and some kids to make other choice.

  3. The idea of having 6th graders write a book (even as small as 24 pages) sounds kind of extreme to me. In a 5th grade class that I was a student teacher in, I remember the students spending a week or more just on writing a single page. So, I’m impressed to hear that students at this school will write between 24 and 140 pages.

    I know that the academic demographics of one school will be different from another, but I just question how much different could they be such that they write between 24 to 140 pages. I looked up the API of Evergreen Elementary: http://dq.cde.ca.gov/dataquest/AcntRpt2010/2010GrowthSch.aspx?cYear=2005-06&allcds=43-694356047138

    Apparently, their API last year was 927. I don’t know exactly what to make of that number. I just know that it’s a high API number. If that API number is truly representative of their academic ability, perhaps writing a short novel is doable for them. I’m still a bit skeptical. For my case, I would need to see student work that was a result of the same event in previous years.

    If majority of the students at this Evergreen elementary can truly write a short novel, then I have no reason to disagree. I would encourage it actually. It sounds like a process that would require a lot of focus, organization, planning, and editing. All seem like good qualities to develop and refine.

    • You have the API for an elementary school in the district. The districtwide API is 882. However, Smith Elementary, the school in the story, has a sky-high API of 965.

      In my days at the Mercury News, Evergreen spent less per student than any district in the county with very good test scores. Jim Smith, for whom the school is named, was superintendent for something like 40 years. It’s a very diverse district in socioeconomics, ethnicity and race with many immigrant families. Over time, I think Evergreen is gentrifying and becoming more Asian. About half the district’s students are Asian; most of the rest are Latino with some whites and Filipinos and a small percentage of blacks.

  4. I pity the adult who has to read all that “creativity”.

    What’s the point of this endeavor? When kids write fiction it’s usually a third-rate imitation of the third-rate young adult fiction that they consume. Why not have them start reading more advanced literature like Dickens instead? That will elevate their tastes, broaden their vocabulary, and increase their general knowledge?

  5. Why not have them write parables or little stories? I too would rather see my child reading literature rather than spend hours producing mediocre work. That said, my 6th grader is writing a novel. But she is doing this on her own initiative.

  6. Last year my homeschooled kids and I did NaNoWriMo together. It was a great experience for all of us. None of us produced a decent novel. But they learned a lot about the writing process and it gave them a better appreciation of good writing.

    I learned that I have no desire to write fiction again. But, as I watch them enjoying it this year without me, and as I read their stories – which are much better than last year’s – I’m a little jealous that I don’t have time for it.

    Their reading does slow down while they are engaged in this project, it’s true. But the other 11 months of the year they engage in a wide variety of reading: high-quality literature, mediocre but fun novels, and nonfiction. I’d love to see it become a November tradition.

  7. Soapbox0916 says:

    Based on some of these comments, I feel like I must be missing something, but I think students at some point should go through the mechanics of putting together a fiction novel. Fiction can be pure fiction or be inspired by real life events, there is wide variety to writing fiction.

    There is a value in learning how to put together a novel, understanding cause and effect over the entire length of novel, putting together an overall plot and storyline, creating plot twists, and understanding common pacing devices of novels. One example of structure choice is having a plot twist about 1/3 of the way through and a second plot twist 2/3 of the way through a novel. Another example is a plot twist about 20% in the novel and the second closure type of plot twist about 80% in the novel, near the end.

    Novels also allow for intertwining of subplots with a main plot that cannot be done in short story. Yes, I understand the emphasis of wanting students to be good writers, but I disagree that short stories are a better way for students to learn how to write. Kids should learn the basic mechanics of all writing formats at some point in school.

    Short stories have their own value, but they are not a substitute for learning how a novel is structured and valuing the craft of a longer storyline that cannot be done in a short story. In the current times of texts, novels should be encouraged. Yes, reading of great novels should also be done to analyze how novels are put together, but I personally think one appreciates reading novels a whole lot more after having attempted to put together a novel.

    I was just thinking this morning about the first book I put together, not quite novel length, but much longer than short story. It was titled the Invasion of the Purple People Eaters. No, it was not a work of great art. Yes, purple is my favorite color. I wrote it in the first grade. I wrote my first novel, using one of the how to write a novel workbooks on my own in third grade. I know I am a major geek and I was an advanced reader for my age, but sixth grade still seems reasonable enough for a first attempt. At least let the students learn how to put together a novel.

  8. Deirdre Mundy says:

    Why write a novel, and not a research paper (complete with notecards, primary sources, etc,) related to the history or science curriculum? The NanoWriMo model is NOT a very good model of what professional novelists actually do, and the “write as much as you can without self-editing” is not a process that works for every writer. In addition, the kids who WANT to write novels will write them anyway.

    Also, most teachers have very little idea of how working authors actually work. The kids would get more out of a series of workshops run by writers than NanoWriMo. Also (and this is something that seems to fall by the wayside in these ‘hit a wordcount’ type endeavors) there’s more to a novel than just length. They’d be better off reading a selection of good novels and good short stories and discussing what makes a novel a NOVEL.
    A research paper allows students to learn the writing process, the editing process, AND gain in depth knowledge of a topic.

  9. There is a core curriculum that all students should be provided; and then there are special projects that can be more child-specific. Writing a novel would be suitable for some students, just as building a doghouse would be suitable for some and collecting a year’s worth of weather data would be suitable for some.

  10. The first activity was to create our own Iron Man for our classroom. In groups we started to cover huge boxes and long carpet-holder tubes with silver paper and foil. The children had a great time and there was a real element of teamwork and communication.

  11. Richard Aubrey says:

    It’s easy to get ideas,” 11-year-old Sahith Narala said,

    Somebody smack that kid. Or have her write for Writer’s Digest.

  12. Children enjoy reading comic books in class, especially boys! What comic books
    and graphic novels have been made into films? Which are in production? Comic
    books tell stories in a similar way to film because characters and events are framed
    in the same way as they are by a camera. Storyboards are very similar to comic
    books. Filmmakers make storyboards and use them alongside the script when
    filming. Children can create their own comic books and storyboards, perhaps
    adapting a book they have enjoyed that isn’t a film already.