07-14-18 Cassandra O’Leary

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Importance of School

Hi everyone! I am YA author B A Binns , writer of contemporary and realistic fiction for teens. My tagline tells you what I am about - Stories of Real Boys Growing Into Real Men - and the people who love them. 

There are few things more important in the life of young people than school. Over 250 schools have reopened in Houston. I felt a rush of triumph when I read that on Monday in a story from NPR, (http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2017/09/11/550218485/houston-public-schools-open-after-delays-from-hurricane-harvey). For children, school is a symbol of normalcy, and normalcy is something we all need now.

Naturally, the Internet had many comments about this, including one troll who told the world that the kids had to be really bummed out about that development.


I chose not to feed him.

The kids of hurricane ravaged Houston, on the other hand, gave positive messages to the news that school was back:
  • I'm feeling good today 
  • I don't have to sit in the house anymore and think about everything else. 
  • I was just waiting to go to school. I was like, 'Why did Harvey have to come? We got to go to school and learn!'
They echoed my own thoughts. When I was a child, I reveled in the first day of school. Rain or shine, it couldn't come soon enough for me. Summer was too long, too hot, boring, and frankly the "vacation" aspect had worn out it's welcome by September.  I knew my future lay in that education thing I got inside the walls. Besides, other kids might laugh at me, or ignore me, but I could always impress my teachers.

As a parent, I looked forward to that first day of school for a different reason. I knew the importance of an education for my daughter, and of having the middle of the days to myself again. The return to school was a celebration of parental freedom.

As a writer – well, I write MG and YA fiction. School and schoolchildren are my milieu so naturally I attended NCAAL  (National Conference of African American Librarians) in Atlanta, Ga last month. There I picked up a number of tips for my writing and for attracting readers during the valuable three-day learning experience with librarians and teachers. I also taught them something, giving a workshop about innovative ways to use diverse books and materials in their programs and classes.
I love the start of school. Not only are school-aged youth the subjects I write about, they also constitute the audience I write for. Furthermore, I still enjoy enhancing my own education. I recently attended the tenth

 None of the stories I write take place during school vacation (although my WIP does have a few important scenes that occur during the Thanksgiving vacation). School is one of the number one social activities and bonding experiences for young people. That’s how I use school in my books and short stories.

For my first novel I invented a Chicago high school called Farrington for my first book. That school became and remains a unifying character. It’s the location where most of the action occurs, the place where teens socialize, get angry, and even fall in love – you know, all that real life drama. (BTW, Farrington H S is NOT Barrington H S in disguise. I not thinking of that school I have never been to. Then two years ago I was invited to speak at a workshop where the moderator introduced me as a former Barrington HS teacher. Not understanding, I can be very dense, I corrected the presenter, stating I had heard of the school but had never attended or taught there. I was half-way through my talk before I made the connection. Sometimes I wear blinders.)

School has a way of throwing people together. In adult novels, the workplace frequently provides the grounds for keeping people together and helping them bond. Farrington High School functions like a character in its own right, doing the same for the teens in my novel.

David meets and woos bad girl Yolanda, aka “The Dare,” inside the halls of Farrington in my debut YA novel, Pull. Fittingly, David is a survivor of domestic violence, and Yolanda’s self-esteem is being shattered by an abusive boyfriend.

In my second book, Being God, Yolanda’s former boyfriend and David’s arch enemy, Malik Kaplan takes center stage. He falls hard for Barnetta, David’s sister, both in Farrington’s school halls and while sparring in the boxing ring. (Turns out Barnetta had a mean left hook and she uses it to force him to choose between his growing feelings for her and his love of the alcohol that keeps him in trouble.)

In my third book, Minority Of One, Farrington forms the arena where the off-again, on-again relationship between gay teens Carl and Neill deepens into love.

My new book, Courage, coming May 2018 from Harper Collins, takes place in seventh grade. The kids may be a little young for conventional love and romance, but in even at twelve and thirteen, feelings are developing. The school in Courage (unnamed school, I have learned my lesson) provides opportunities for the kids to explore their diverse world and get to know each other.

The characters in Courage have connections with some of the Farrington high students. Linda is  David and Barnetta’s youngest sister. She plays a critical role in shaping some of T’Shawnt’s decisions, while continuing to wrestle with her own response to the domestic violence in her past. And T’Shawn Rodgers, the protagonist, was once mentored by Malik Kaplan. My brain finds it easier to maintain some continuity between my characters this way. I love expanding and embellishing old characters and revealing their personal stories. I love expanding the stories and lives of my minor characters,

COURAGE Excerpt:

“Romance” means something different for seventh grade kids than it does for older readers. At twelve and thirteen, young people are beginning to grasp that there’s the possibility of something more to relationships than simply being buddies. They know the differences between male and female no longer has anything to do with “cooties,” even if they don't yet understand or want much more.

For T’Shawn, the protagonist in Courage, the idea of a birthday kiss from the self-styled prettiest girl in class is huge, at least in the beginning as you see in this brief excerpt from Courage where T'Shawn Rodgers daydreams.
I come to the pool for the snacks. And to swim, the only sport I don’t hate.
And for the girls in swimsuits.
Well, for one girl, at least.
Carmela Rhodes.
She’s the brown-skinned mermaid in a shining blue and black swimsuit with a white swim cap. She’s already thirteen and is the prettiest girl in my seventh grade class. (If there is any question on that, you can ask her or one of her satellite besties: Marianne Smith, Fantasia Grey or Linda Murhasselt.) Linda is at the pool with her today, only she sits in the bleachers. Carmela stands beside one of the diving boards. I have one goal that I’m aiming for, a birthday kiss from Carmela Rhodes. My first real kiss ever.
But by the end of the story, T'Shawn's relationship with Carmela, and with a number of other classmates, has evolved. Not even finally getting his kiss helps him recover from her insistence that his brother be banished.
No one seemed more surprised by the news of my brother’s departure than Carmela. “Are you sure?” she asked after I told her he was gone.
“I saw him leave,” I snarl.
“You mean we won!” she squeals and then throws her hands over her mouth to stifle the sound. A moment later, she puts her arms around me and kisses me on the cheek.
I step back and wipe my face with the back of my hand.
The good news is, in spite of everything, a friendship forged by problems and misadventures has begun. One that will keep T'Shawn and Carmela, and a host of their friends, close as they move on toward adulthood.

On a personal note:

My personal education saga continues. On October 21, I am scheduled to assist in the Middle School Writer's Workshop during the Day of YA activities at the Illinois School Library Media Association’s conference in Springfield, Il. Then, just before year’s end I will be teaching a workshop to aspiring authors about the Business of Writing for KidLitNation.

If you are interested in finding out more about these events, and about Courage as it marches toward publication, let me know, OK?


Judith Ashley said...

B.A. Your dedication and enthusiasm for your audience is inspiring! I do recall the challenges of 7th grade both in terms of my own memories and when I taught at that grade level.

author lynn hammomd said...

I enjoy reading this. I remember 7th grade is when all the girls start seeing boys more then just a boy. My first crush was a guy who played the drums with a Raiders jacket. I also remember subjects got harder and more of my time was studying.

Sarah Raplee said...

I would LOVE to learn more about Courage. Please let us know when it will be available for pre-order. I have two grandchildren who are the right age for this book.

Your involvement in library and school initiatives is so impressive, B.A. You are a wonderful teacher, as I found out by taking one of your online classes that has helped me so much!

Lynn Lovegreen said...

Congrats on your next book, B.A.--sounds great! And thanks for inspiring young people everywhere.