As we celebrated our 60th year in print and prepared our Fall 2021 “Why We Write” issue we set out to explore the writing happening in MQR’s Southeast Michigan community. With support from the Michigan Council for the Arts and Cultural Affairs we hosted series of collaborative workshops with community organizations around us. Our question was simple: Why do we write? In today’s installment on the workshop series we hear from young writers at 826michigan.
826michigan: Who We Are
826michigan is a non-profit organization that encourages students to cultivate their love of writing through free, interactive writing programs in Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, and Detroit. During the 2020-2021 school year, 826michigan redesigned our programs to write with students in a virtual format. While our physical classrooms were closed, the Wee-bots program—a writing workshop for our youngest writers ages 6-10—allowed us to connect online with these students. Our time together was dedicated to the exploration of writing as a community. Each week we read a book over Zoom and practiced one tool or approach to writing that the author used in the story. All ability levels were invited to these fun, informal sessions where we played around with writing—from the physical act of writing to the creative ideas involved. Lessons from the 2020-2021 school year included family stories, surprises, feelings, traditions, everyday experiences, and problem solving. The Wee-bots also studied the revision process as they progressed their pieces towards publication.
Adapting to Virtual Learning
In light of the pandemic, 826michigan, like so many organizations and institutions, needed to adjust to the novel virtual learning space. What began as a three week center closure extended into a full year of distance learning. For students and volunteers, it was the feeling of physical separation that posed the greatest challenge. Writing workshops, tutoring sessions, and field trips simply did not feel the same with classmates miles away—without the ability to speak with a neighbor or collaborate on a drawing or a handwritten adventure story. The closure of local libraries also presented its own difficulties as instructors hurried to locate digital book copies for their instruction.
And yet, the vibrancy of the 826michigan Wee-bot community never waned. While classrooms and vocal group discussions became Zoom screens and breakout rooms, a team of incredible volunteers and staff bonded together to provide a renewed outpouring of support so characteristic of 826michigan’s operations. Along the way, too, the Wee-bots program not only continued but actually grew! Virtual sessions broadened the program’s reach, enabling students from all three of 826michigan’s bases in Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, and Detroit to connect with one another and with volunteers Zooming in from across the country and world.
As a community, we navigated change through important lessons pertaining to the pandemic. We wrote about emotions and penned letters to remote friends and family members. Above all, we exchanged liveliness, cheer, and joy through warm greetings, welcoming icebreakers, and encouraging feedback. We even held an end-of-spring semester party to celebrate the release of our student writing chapbook! On this special occasion, we fashioned festive Zoom backgrounds, baked homemade treats, and enjoyed robot dance breaks interspersed with read alouds. Through it all, the Wee-bots maintained their sense of humor, creativity, and curiosity, as exemplified by the three selections included in this publication.
Why the Wee-Bots Write
One important and fitting lesson we addressed this year on the National Day on Writing (October 20) was why we write. Why is writing important? Why is it important to the community? Why is it important to the world? In order to address these salient questions, we read Sequoyah: The Cherokee Man Who Gave His People Writing. In the early nineteenth century, Sequoyah created a writing system for the Cherokee language and people. In response to these themes, Wee-bots discussed why writing is important to individuals and communities; they determined that it allows people to share their voices, information, thoughts, and stories. We also considered how writing is a way to figure things out, to connect to our world, understand who we are and who we will become, and use our power to make changes and build a better world. In this issue, we have included three Wee-Bots’ reflections on why they write.
Introduction to Individual Wee-Bots
We are now happy to introduce these three Wee-bot writers: Matthieu Cras, Gabriel Etheridge, and William Parent.
Matthieu began his relationship with the Wee-bots program as a kindergartener listening to his older sister and other Bots share their writing. When he entered first grade, Matthieu earned his gears and became a Wee-bot himself. It has been a pleasure to watch him develop as a writer over the last three years. Matthieu always brings a sense of fun and whimsy to his writing. He wants you to know that elves don’t eat junk food!
Gabriel always pushes himself to interpret the week’s topic in a creative and interesting way and produces amazingly insightful results. In response to a lesson on stories about problem solving, he explored an emotional problem through the eyes of anthropomorphic peanut butter.
Here is a story to give insight about William as a writer. William chose to record a favorite family story: the time wolves chased Grandpa David around the Pyramids at Giza. As a writer committed to finding the truth, William interviewed family members about what they remembered about the time of his grandfather’s trip to Egypt. His final piece includes a much loved family tale, reflection on oral storytelling tradition, and interviews with two generations.
We know you will enjoy these delightful stories!
-Claire Stano, 826michigan Wee-bots Facilitator
-Neena Dzur, 826michigan Workshops & Editorial Intern
The Gray | By Gabriel
Have you ever felt nothing, like empty? This is how Lia feels every day. Lia is quiet and shy. She often feels empty inside. Most people call her “The Gray” because she feels nothing. Rumor has it she was born without the capability to have feelings. Lia loves to go to the library. Every time she goes, something unusual happens. Every book she touches turns gray. And all the feeling and liveliness of the book is, well, drained. Everyone who reads one of the gray-ified books, they feel the Gray. People describe it as… they say it’s a trance that lasts about an hour, and they feel drained.
Gabriel Etheridge, age eleven lives in Detroit with his mom, dad, and younger brother. He’s been participating in the Wee-bots weekly writing group since age 5, through this program he has had the opportunity to write and publish several short stories through their yearly anthology called, The Omnibus. He is proud of how he has grown as a writer and his goal is to continue writing and eventually publish a series of books. When he was nine years old, he became a published co-author of his first children’s book, When I grow up, what might I be. He wrote this book with his dad after being inspired by the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” His favorite part about writing is being able to express his feelings. One of Gabriel’s proudest moments was receiving his school’s highest honor, of being named a Light Leader for Curiosity and Creativity, because he displays this characteristic along with the other Habits of Character which include, Perseverance, Cooperation, Integrity, Responsibility, and Compassion.
Writing, Writing, Writing: Why Do We Need It? | Matthieu
“Why do we need writing?” wondered Nico while walking on the sidewalk to go to the park. “We can talk to people so if we can talk, we do not need writing,” Nico murmured. He had just passed the pet store.
Nico lived in the magical and mystical realm of mysteries. The name was weird, but the realm was amazing. The weather was not the same for the person next to you, and you could pick the weather that you wanted. The same was true for your wardrobe. Then suddenly everyone stopped talking; they could not even open their mouths.
It turned out that writing was very important because if people could talk how would they communicate well they could write! At the end everyone had learned their lesson, but no one knew who had cast that spell.
Matthieu Cras is a 10 year-old boy that lives in a house in Ann Arbor with his parents, 2 sisters and 2 cats. His parents are from France, he has the dual citizenship and he is fluent in French. He will be a 5th grader in the fall. He loves to play hockey, piano, chess and he is an avid reader. He loves to read mysteries and Mythology books. He wants to be a hockey player for the NHL or a conductor.
Why Writing is Important to Me | William
Writing is my memories. Writing is my bedtime stories. Writing inspires my dreams. Writing is how we express our feelings and thoughts. Writing makes us laugh; it makes us cry. Writing takes us on a trip — a trip to Saturn, a trip to a castle, a trip to Antarctica. Writing lets words travel long distances to our grandparents and friends who live far away. Writing lets us learn about anything and anyone at any time. Writing allows us to learn about interesting (or not so interesting) topics. Writing is a gift that everyone can afford. Writing allowed me to write this story. Goodbye.
William Parent, age 8, lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. William enjoys writing realistic fiction – things that could happen, but haven’t. His writing is inspired by his real life experiences and from books that he has read. He enjoys a wide range of authors from Chris Van Dusen and Greg Pizzoli to Beverly Cleary and Roald Dahl. William has many favorite books, including The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden and Hello Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly. When he is not writing, he spends his time building LEGO, drawing maps, playing the piano, and reading.