Sixth graders learn from author talk, poetry competition

Feb 21, 2019

Sixth graders at Dartmouth Middle School learned from a professional writer and tested thier poetry skills in a competition at a middle school assembly.

Peter Johnson, the Rhode Island-based author of “The Life and Times of Benny Alvarez,” also brought the students behind the scenes of book publishing, showing them different covers that were considered for the novel.

The book follows Benny, also known as “Mr. Negativity,” through the trials and tribulations of seventh grade.

The novel also features a metaphor poetry contest, which the sixth graders brought to life by collaborating on poems that described something through metaphors without naming it. Then, teams from other classes had to guess what the poem was about.

“To me, it’s always kind of like an incredible honor to have so many kids read my book , even if you were forced to read it,” Johnson said. “I really do appreciate the time you spend with my work, and I love the second part of this more than my part when I get to read your poems.”

Sixth graders eagerly lined up to ask Johnson questions about his inspiration for the book, whether he is an optimist or a pessimist, whether he ever considered having two of the characters date, and what the writing process.

“The first draft only took me probably about seven weeks, but it took me a year and a half to rewrite it,” Johnson said. “To me, that’s the fun part. The fun part is working on it, making it better, perfecting. It’s almost like a sculpture that you keep sanding down, getting it right where you want it.”

Another student asked about the message of the book.

“Friendship and family is really important,” Johnson said. “Especially family.”

Then, the students competed in a poetry contest which was won for the second year in a row by the Pratt/Wingate block, who correctly guessed the subject of the most poems.

The Mclean/Lazaro Block Poem

As I cast over you,

Millions and billions of my brethren are still alive

With their children surrounding them.

I am history to another time.

So do I wonder why sometimes I must be so big

And yet even so very small.

I am white as I can also be red, green, yellow, purple, or blue.

Don't cry! I may take a vacation.

But I will be right back with you.

And just so you know, I have my own spoon, hunter, bear.

As painters poke me on a black piece of paper with little care.

(The answer is "Stars.")