One of my core beliefs is that creativity is a human condition, that this creativity is manifested in different ways in different people, that it is mentally beneficial (and mostly enjoyable) to exercise this creativity, and that no one should be denied the opportunity to do this.
One of the most pleasurable aspects of my job is meeting and chatting to children and young people of all ages. I do this in my role as a speech and drama examiner, as part of requirements designed to encourage young people to communicate clearly and confidently. The chat is limited in time and scope but it includes leisure time activities, books and authors, drama (obviously), plans and potential careers, achievements and so on.
Listening to kids talk about books and reading is one of the most interesting aspects of this. I can spot kids who read a lot, both by the books they choose to bring in to the exam, and also by the confidence with which they approach their prepared reading. The authors that appear most often (the age group for Grade 3 is about 7-10) are David Walliams, JK Rowling, Jacqueline Wilson, Francesca Simon, Jeff Kinney, Roald Dahl and, believe it or not, Enid Blyton. I say ‘believe it or not’ because I used to read Enid Blyton books fifty years ago and I suppose I’m surprised at her enduring popularity. The candidates are mostly well able to talk about why they like to read certain authors and I’ve heard a lot of very interesting views.
Every so often I come across a candidate who has a special talent for something or other. In many cases this just emerges from conversation but sometimes the evidence can be a bit more direct.
Last year, in exams held in Karen Murphy’s School in Letterkenny, a 10 year-old boy called Luke Boal came in for his Grade 4 exam, gave me his report sheet and plonked a couple of items on my desk. I thought to myself that he’d probably wish me to have a look at the items and/or chat to him about them. We were OK for time and so, after the business of the exam was over, I had a look.
The items were home-made books. Graphic novels, really, containing drawings and text. The drawings had the most extraordinary energy and expression. They were mostly human figures, alone or in groups, interacting, and there was a clear story line. The text was boldly written, in capital letters. The layout of the pages suggested a raw energy but also a good sense of the use of space to convey dynamism and momentum. We chatted about the books and he told me what they were about and said he had a lot more at home. Time was limited so I thanked him for showing the books to me and he left the room. I thought about those books several times over the last year and told several people about them and about Luke.
Last week, I found myself back in Letterkenny, at Karen Murphy’s exams again, and in came Luke, now 11, for his Grade 5 exam. He handed me his report sheet and plonked another two of his books on my desk. I confess, I couldn’t wait to look at them. Luke presented his programme and I asked him to tell me about the books he’d brought in.
The books were the product of the same, undiminished, energy. The drawings were still expressionistic. More colour used this time. The layout was as bold and exciting as last year’s but the themes showed some development and evidence of an emerging interest in different cultures. One of the books was about Aztec and Mayan culture and history and, in addition to people, Luke had drawn some landscapes of, for example, Machu Picchu.
The make-up of the books was clever too. Luke had used the cardboard from a pad of paper as a hard cover for one of his creations and had then created a dust cover to enclose it. As with, say, library books, the title was on both.
Here are some of Luke’s drawings and layouts. Bear in mind that this is a tiny sample, and that the photos of them were taken in a bit of hurry in the exam room. But I hope that they convey the expressionistic energy I’ve just written about. (By the way, I spoke to Luke’s mum and she gave me permission to include Luke’s name and these photos in this blog.)