This morning I gave a 45-minute presentation on speculative fiction to 65 second-graders. I was quite nervous about the whole thing. When I began, I told the kids that I would rather talk to 650 adults than 65 eight-year-olds; I couldn't imagine a tougher room as I prepared my remarks.
But these kids were amazing. They stayed focused as we discussed the difference between science fiction and fantasy; they enjoyed making up their own "What if...?" scenarios. They asked me a lot of questions about what I write, and how, and why. They asked whether any of my books have been made into movies yet; I replied that this had not yet occurred, but that I was hopeful that it might happen someday.
I read them a bit of Jill Paton Walsh's excellent The Green Book. We mused about what it would be like to leave the earth behind forever, and what one book each would take with him or her in the spaceship if forced to choose.
We talked about the very recent discovery of a possibly habitable planet in the solar system of Gliese 581. One boy volunteered that it could be our back-up plan when our own sun turns into a red giant and then goes supernova. We remembered together that this eventuality is many billions of years in our future and felt some relief.
I told them that Albert Einstein, when asked how to develop intelligence in young people, replied, "Have them read folk tales. Then more folk tales. Then even more." We talked about how reading speculative fiction stretches the imagination, and that limber imaginations are what make great discoveries possible.
I gave them a little information about George Orwell and how his book Nineteen Eighty-Four changed the world. They had trouble believing that governments would actually ban books; they also had a hard time imagining the world before Harry Potter. "Writers are powerful," I reminded them, "They can change the world and the way we think."
I asked them what they thought is wrong with our world; they worry more than perhaps we would like eight-year-olds to worry about wars and pollution and global warming. I then asked them what is right with the world, and their enthusiastic answers--everything from "Trees" to "Music" to "Being kind"--were heartening.
I told them a secret: many people, as they age, let their minds close and harden, making new thoughts difficult for them to think when they grow up. I told them that they are the leaders of tomorrow, and that if they will keep their brains open and their imaginations active, they'll be able to come up with solutions for the plagues and problems that beset us, then put the solutions into action.
I closed by telling that 'hope' is one of my favorite words (my own Hope smiled incandescently at that point). It means dreaming about things being better, then working to make those dreams come true. I encouraged them to be dreamers and doers, and as I looked into their bright faces, I felt the enormity of their potential and an increase in my own hope for the future.
And speaking of children being the luminous hope of the future, please go spend some time with the Tumaini Kids. Have your children visit, too. A blogging friend introduced me to the site, and I am better for having visited. I plan to go back often; these children and their leaders are an inspiration.