On Asking an Author for Homework Help

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, CHRIS!!

God, I love Fridays. Everything seems easier.

Thanks for all the encouragement and hurrahs about PROM’s release yesterday. I got a note from Editor Sharyn that it has also been nominated for the Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers 2006 list, which I am thrilled about.

I know I had a bunch of things to write here, but my brain is still fuzzy. Arg.

Yesterday’s school visit at Limerick Elem was fun – it was Slipper Day. You can tell a lot about a kid by her or his slippers. Today is another elementary school visit. I am feeling like I don’t have enough hours and I have way too much work. Still have revising to do on the pb manuscript and I desperately want to send that off before the road trip starts.

I’ve also been feeling guilty about my response to Stuart a few days ago. I think I was too harsh and I apologize if he’s reading this. Here’s why I was cranky: I get email every week from kids who want Spark notes or Cliff notes to one of my books, or they want me to answer their essay questions. For them to find my email address, they have to go to the paragraph on the website that says I do not do homework. But still they try. I suppose they should get points for persistence, if nothing else.

Lazy kids not wanting to do homework I understand. I was one of those kids. But there is an additional issue here.

Kids and teachers have unprecedented access to authors via the Web. This is mostly good. I love hearing from readers, and I’ve had a blast keeping this LJ. But I think that the notion of a student’s personal interpretation of text is quickly vanishing. I hear from kids who want to know why I put a scene in, or what a symbol stands for, or – in Stuart’s case- what are the connections between Scarlett Letter and Speak. While I have opinions about all of these things, I think the reader’s interpretation is every bit (if not more!) valid than mine. That’s why we read books – they can hold up a mirror that allows us to see ourselves more clearly. This is especially important when you are a teenager and half the time you have no clue who you are.

If somebody wants me to do their homework I will laugh hysterically and say “no.” If somebody wants “the author’s official answer”, I’ll probably turn that one down, too. If someone is confused about a character or plot point, or wants to have an online discussion about it, I am totally there.

Opinions, anyone?

30 Replies to “On Asking an Author for Homework Help”

  1. As a former classroom teacher, I think you have the right idea. It’s more important for the reader to interpret or discover the “answer” than to find out the author’s version. I always felt like any interpretation was acceptable as long as the reader could support his/her answer with examples from the book. Besides, as readers with different life experiences, we interpret and relate to stories differently. Which is why I can love one book while another person might not.

    This is the reason I don’t provide long summaries of the books I read on my web site reading list. I don’t want some student to use my summary in place of reading a book and writing his/her own book report.

    I just had an interesting discussion with a friend yesterday, about a mutual friend who was doing her child’s assignment. We were taken aback. What does this teach the child? Yikes.

  2. As a former classroom teacher, I think you have the right idea. It’s more important for the reader to interpret or discover the “answer” than to find out the author’s version. I always felt like any interpretation was acceptable as long as the reader could support his/her answer with examples from the book. Besides, as readers with different life experiences, we interpret and relate to stories differently. Which is why I can love one book while another person might not.

    This is the reason I don’t provide long summaries of the books I read on my web site reading list. I don’t want some student to use my summary in place of reading a book and writing his/her own book report.

    I just had an interesting discussion with a friend yesterday, about a mutual friend who was doing her child’s assignment. We were taken aback. What does this teach the child? Yikes.

    1. Thanks for the feedback. I didn’t know you had been a teacher!

      I think parents who do their kids’ homework (or write their college essays – I hear that one a lot) should have to sit in a dunk tank at a carnival. All day long. I’ll throw the first ball.

      1. Whee

        Ooh, I want to dunk someone in water! Whee! ^^U
        OK, anyway, I wholeheartedly agree with what you say involving the homework thing. It’s your point of view. Thankfully, my parents didn’t do my homework, thus making my opinion MY OWN. Oh yeah, I have a question. I have to do a book report on Catalyst, and I was wondering what your view on Kate was…..Just kidding! :-p

      2. Parents

        My parents offer to help me if I’m struggling, and I appreciate that they’re there. But I have a friend whose mom will stay up all night writing an essay for her if the girl was too tired or something. It makes me somewhat angry (that I work hard and she doesn’t but we do the same) and also somewhat sad for her… and it also makes me appreciate my parents even more for leading me in the right direction. Now my friend expects things out of ME because she gets carried along in every other area of her life… I don’t see how she’s truly being helped!

    2. I had the (evil nasty) principal at my kid’s school tell me, “as parents, sometimes we have to DO our children’s homework for them.” (of course if you ask him about that, he’ll tell you I’m a clueless parent who heard him wrong)

      I’m all for getting kids and everyone else, to think for themselves. Now…I gotta go, I only have 10 math problems left and he has to turn it in this afternoon.

  3. As a former classroom teacher, I think you have the right idea. It’s more important for the reader to interpret or discover the “answer” than to find out the author’s version. I always felt like any interpretation was acceptable as long as the reader could support his/her answer with examples from the book. Besides, as readers with different life experiences, we interpret and relate to stories differently. Which is why I can love one book while another person might not.

    This is the reason I don’t provide long summaries of the books I read on my web site reading list. I don’t want some student to use my summary in place of reading a book and writing his/her own book report.

    I just had an interesting discussion with a friend yesterday, about a mutual friend who was doing her child’s assignment. We were taken aback. What does this teach the child? Yikes.

  4. Thanks for the feedback. I didn’t know you had been a teacher!

    I think parents who do their kids’ homework (or write their college essays – I hear that one a lot) should have to sit in a dunk tank at a carnival. All day long. I’ll throw the first ball.

  5. Thanks for the feedback. I didn’t know you had been a teacher!

    I think parents who do their kids’ homework (or write their college essays – I hear that one a lot) should have to sit in a dunk tank at a carnival. All day long. I’ll throw the first ball.

  6. Whee

    Ooh, I want to dunk someone in water! Whee! ^^U
    OK, anyway, I wholeheartedly agree with what you say involving the homework thing. It’s your point of view. Thankfully, my parents didn’t do my homework, thus making my opinion MY OWN. Oh yeah, I have a question. I have to do a book report on Catalyst, and I was wondering what your view on Kate was…..Just kidding! :-p

  7. Whee

    Ooh, I want to dunk someone in water! Whee! ^^U
    OK, anyway, I wholeheartedly agree with what you say involving the homework thing. It’s your point of view. Thankfully, my parents didn’t do my homework, thus making my opinion MY OWN. Oh yeah, I have a question. I have to do a book report on Catalyst, and I was wondering what your view on Kate was…..Just kidding! :-p

  8. I feel like my right to control what a story is about ends when I send it out into the world, and readers see it and bring their own stories to it. The author’s take is only one take, and I’d rather leave readers free to have their own, too.

  9. I feel like my right to control what a story is about ends when I send it out into the world, and readers see it and bring their own stories to it. The author’s take is only one take, and I’d rather leave readers free to have their own, too.

  10. I feel like my right to control what a story is about ends when I send it out into the world, and readers see it and bring their own stories to it. The author’s take is only one take, and I’d rather leave readers free to have their own, too.

  11. I had the (evil nasty) principal at my kid’s school tell me, “as parents, sometimes we have to DO our children’s homework for them.” (of course if you ask him about that, he’ll tell you I’m a clueless parent who heard him wrong)

    I’m all for getting kids and everyone else, to think for themselves. Now…I gotta go, I only have 10 math problems left and he has to turn it in this afternoon.

  12. I had the (evil nasty) principal at my kid’s school tell me, “as parents, sometimes we have to DO our children’s homework for them.” (of course if you ask him about that, he’ll tell you I’m a clueless parent who heard him wrong)

    I’m all for getting kids and everyone else, to think for themselves. Now…I gotta go, I only have 10 math problems left and he has to turn it in this afternoon.

  13. I agree with you. And with Janni, the author should step away and allow the reader to interpret for themselves. We all take something different away from a book. If a student gets frustrated by that answer, that is a red flag right there that they missed something in the process. But with all of these nurturing authors on hand, maybe the student will feel safe enough to slow down and go back to find out what they missed. Either than, or they will find that particular book didn’t resonate with them and hopefully they will give another a chance because of positive contact with the author/artist.

    You really care and that makes a difference.

  14. I agree with you. And with Janni, the author should step away and allow the reader to interpret for themselves. We all take something different away from a book. If a student gets frustrated by that answer, that is a red flag right there that they missed something in the process. But with all of these nurturing authors on hand, maybe the student will feel safe enough to slow down and go back to find out what they missed. Either than, or they will find that particular book didn’t resonate with them and hopefully they will give another a chance because of positive contact with the author/artist.

    You really care and that makes a difference.

  15. I agree with you. And with Janni, the author should step away and allow the reader to interpret for themselves. We all take something different away from a book. If a student gets frustrated by that answer, that is a red flag right there that they missed something in the process. But with all of these nurturing authors on hand, maybe the student will feel safe enough to slow down and go back to find out what they missed. Either than, or they will find that particular book didn’t resonate with them and hopefully they will give another a chance because of positive contact with the author/artist.

    You really care and that makes a difference.

  16. all-access pass

    your point about “unprecedented access” is VERY well taken.

    i’ve also been thinking about a separate issue from “do my homework for me”: it seems to me that DVD commentaries, backstage passes, and endless making-of and behind-the-music documentaries have made people in general far more aware of/interested in the process side of creative work. do others have that impression?

  17. all-access pass

    your point about “unprecedented access” is VERY well taken.

    i’ve also been thinking about a separate issue from “do my homework for me”: it seems to me that DVD commentaries, backstage passes, and endless making-of and behind-the-music documentaries have made people in general far more aware of/interested in the process side of creative work. do others have that impression?

  18. all-access pass

    your point about “unprecedented access” is VERY well taken.

    i’ve also been thinking about a separate issue from “do my homework for me”: it seems to me that DVD commentaries, backstage passes, and endless making-of and behind-the-music documentaries have made people in general far more aware of/interested in the process side of creative work. do others have that impression?

  19. I’m definitely with you and Janni on this that the author’s view and interpretation of a story is bound to be different from the reader’s. I will, however, answer background questions if the answer is not available on my web site.

    The ones I hate, and there have been a few, are the ones which practically demand that you do the kid’s homework for him/her.
    One that has always stuck with me went something like this:

    “I have been assigned your novel “A Carved Box” to read, but have not had time to do so. My assignment is due in tomorrow so today I would like to you summarize the plot for me in 500 words. I would also like you to list the themes of the novel and write a brief paragraph about each one.”

    The sheer effrontery of it, the sense of entitlement just blew me away. My reply was somewhat testy

  20. I’m definitely with you and Janni on this that the author’s view and interpretation of a story is bound to be different from the reader’s. I will, however, answer background questions if the answer is not available on my web site.

    The ones I hate, and there have been a few, are the ones which practically demand that you do the kid’s homework for him/her.
    One that has always stuck with me went something like this:

    “I have been assigned your novel “A Carved Box” to read, but have not had time to do so. My assignment is due in tomorrow so today I would like to you summarize the plot for me in 500 words. I would also like you to list the themes of the novel and write a brief paragraph about each one.”

    The sheer effrontery of it, the sense of entitlement just blew me away. My reply was somewhat testy

  21. I’m definitely with you and Janni on this that the author’s view and interpretation of a story is bound to be different from the reader’s. I will, however, answer background questions if the answer is not available on my web site.

    The ones I hate, and there have been a few, are the ones which practically demand that you do the kid’s homework for him/her.
    One that has always stuck with me went something like this:

    “I have been assigned your novel “A Carved Box” to read, but have not had time to do so. My assignment is due in tomorrow so today I would like to you summarize the plot for me in 500 words. I would also like you to list the themes of the novel and write a brief paragraph about each one.”

    The sheer effrontery of it, the sense of entitlement just blew me away. My reply was somewhat testy

  22. I was just saying on my own LJ the other day how I love reading books because they help me understand more about myself… 😛 If I had the choice I would read all day long, and it’s so annoying because books from the library have been piling up in my room, but I can’t find the time to read them! All I ever have is homework– and what books I DO get to read are for school… although I don’t like to read the old books my English teacher makes me read- once I begin to read it I understand in my own way.. and somehow I always find a way to relate to the book. Even though The Fountainhead was 700 pages long.. I read it and loved it!! I think kids need to give things a chance– The Fountainhead looked very scary, and I was so tempted to use sparknotes (and flush the book down a toilet)! But I didn’t! I’m glad I didn’t because I got a lot out of the book on my own.

  23. I was just saying on my own LJ the other day how I love reading books because they help me understand more about myself… 😛 If I had the choice I would read all day long, and it’s so annoying because books from the library have been piling up in my room, but I can’t find the time to read them! All I ever have is homework– and what books I DO get to read are for school… although I don’t like to read the old books my English teacher makes me read- once I begin to read it I understand in my own way.. and somehow I always find a way to relate to the book. Even though The Fountainhead was 700 pages long.. I read it and loved it!! I think kids need to give things a chance– The Fountainhead looked very scary, and I was so tempted to use sparknotes (and flush the book down a toilet)! But I didn’t! I’m glad I didn’t because I got a lot out of the book on my own.

  24. I was just saying on my own LJ the other day how I love reading books because they help me understand more about myself… 😛 If I had the choice I would read all day long, and it’s so annoying because books from the library have been piling up in my room, but I can’t find the time to read them! All I ever have is homework– and what books I DO get to read are for school… although I don’t like to read the old books my English teacher makes me read- once I begin to read it I understand in my own way.. and somehow I always find a way to relate to the book. Even though The Fountainhead was 700 pages long.. I read it and loved it!! I think kids need to give things a chance– The Fountainhead looked very scary, and I was so tempted to use sparknotes (and flush the book down a toilet)! But I didn’t! I’m glad I didn’t because I got a lot out of the book on my own.

  25. Parents

    My parents offer to help me if I’m struggling, and I appreciate that they’re there. But I have a friend whose mom will stay up all night writing an essay for her if the girl was too tired or something. It makes me somewhat angry (that I work hard and she doesn’t but we do the same) and also somewhat sad for her… and it also makes me appreciate my parents even more for leading me in the right direction. Now my friend expects things out of ME because she gets carried along in every other area of her life… I don’t see how she’s truly being helped!

  26. Parents

    My parents offer to help me if I’m struggling, and I appreciate that they’re there. But I have a friend whose mom will stay up all night writing an essay for her if the girl was too tired or something. It makes me somewhat angry (that I work hard and she doesn’t but we do the same) and also somewhat sad for her… and it also makes me appreciate my parents even more for leading me in the right direction. Now my friend expects things out of ME because she gets carried along in every other area of her life… I don’t see how she’s truly being helped!

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