Reading and Writing without Walls

Wednesday, May 09, 2018
If you are a teacher or children’s writer, you may have heard of the Reading Without Walls challenge. In 2016 and 2017, Gene Luen Yang was the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, chosen by the Library of Congress. For two years, he made appearances and interacted with teachers, librarians and young readers, promoting literacy. His challenged them to “Read without Walls,” to read beyond their comfort zone.

This can mean many things, but no matter which interpretation you take it has implications for writers as well as readers.

Read a book about a character who doesn’t look or live like you. For readers, this can be interpreted in many ways. Read a book about a character who lives in another culture. For someone who lives in a big city, it could mean reading about someone who lives in a rural setting. Religion, sexual orientation, geography, class and ability can all play a part in diversity. Recently I’ve read The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang, Wonder by R.J. Palacio, and Wait for Me by Caroline Leech. 

Each of these books took me someplace beyond my personal experience. As a writer, they make me think about my assumptions concerning what a reader will understand with little or no effort.

Read a book about a topic you don’t know much about. I interpret this as a plea to read nonfiction about a new topic. I just finished the audiobook The Woman Who Smashed Codes: A True Story of Love, Spies, and the Unlikely Heroine Who Outwitted America’s Enemies by Jason Fagone and I read Wooly by Ben Mezrick.

Bringing new topics into your writing can keep it fresh. In two years, I wrote three books about race. In spite of how different each book was, I had a sense of deja vu by book #3. Not that I’m leaving this topic behind, but I needed to shake things up. My next two books were STEM topics. I had to read background material before delving into the specifics but I found a new excitement as I found ways to make the topic accessible to my readers.

Read a book in a format that you don’t normally read for fun. This is tough for me because I read so widely. I do not read e-books for fun because I use them in my research. But I listen to a lot of audiobooks and read print books for fun. 

Every now and again I push myself to read a graphic novel although it isn't a form I love. I really liked Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword by Barry Deutsch. Novels in verse are another good choice for me.

I have no clue how to go about writing a graphic novel. But I’m casually looking into it. I’ve also been working up to writing a novel for adults. No, not something racy but something for people who aren’t children or teens.

Take a couple of weeks and try reading and writing without walls. In addition to finding new books and authors to love, it can help enliven your work. You may also find yourself writing in a new area for which you have a special talent.


To find out more about Sue Bradford Edwards' writing, visit her blog, One Writer's Journey.  Sue is also the instructor for Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults. The next session begins July 9th, 2018.


Angela Mackintosh said...

I like this idea! Thanks, Sue. I hadn't heard about the challenge. I admit, I often pick memoirs similar to my life experience, my WIP, or answers I'm searching for, so it's a good reminder to diversify your reading. :)

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

Hmm. Now I feel like I should read a memoir which I almost never read.

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