A novel approach



Students at The New School for Leadership and Journalism gave their arms a workout on Monday, raising them high and keeping them there until the authors whose books they had devoured called on them.

Jason A. Spencer-Edwards, author of Jiggy, and Kateline Gresseau, author of The Journey: Solo, visited classrooms at N.S.L.J., MS 244, where they found worn copies of their books on students’ desks and lists of questions ready to spill out of their mouths.

The authors both have contracts with the Board of Education and write gender-specific books about youngsters navigating the moral landscape of urban America.

According to Eduardo Mora, MS 244’s assistant principal for the seventh grade, or “scholars academy,” the school purchased the books last year, and the morning visit was planned to cap off a unit on characterization that had ended the week before.

The books were still fresh in the middle school students’ minds, and clearly had an impact: They wanted to know everything about the authors, from when they started writing, to whether they listened to their parents years ago and how much money they made through their craft.

The two writers took all sorts of inquiries, but seemed mostly concerned with making sure students understood the meaning of their books.

Speaking to an all-girls class that had read her novel, Ms. Gresseau recounted a scene in which the young protagonist is walking down the steps while the building’s super stares at her.

“She felt like the last piece of fried chicken,” Ms. Gresseau said, and encouraged students not to make the same mistake the character, largely based on herself, did by keeping such incidents from their parents.

Mr. Spencer-Edwards, whose novel was read by all-boys classes and is about avoiding materialism and the need to be “jiggy,” or well-dressed, dolled out life advice that he said helped him get where he is today.

In response to a student who asked how he felt about his teachers when he was young, he said, “They had their job to do and I had my job to do. My job was to get an A,” he said.

And though Mr. Spencer-Edwards was able to avoid answering questions about the bulk of his bank account by instead recounting how many books he had sold, Ms. Gresseau tackled the tough question of what she would change about her life.

Nothing, she said. Because the things she didn’t like about herself, being tall and quick to get into fights, had helped her write a novel about a girl with similar issues.

Finally, a student asked a question that stumped her. What animal did she most identify with.

After some thought, she answered.

“I’d be a cockroach,” she said. “Because they’re survivors and I feel like I’m a survivor, you know?

“You have to hit ‘em like five to six times and they play dead,” she said. “And some of them can fly.”