Photo: Kristin Van de Water

Something clicked for my struggling writer this week, and now all she wants to do is make books.

“All I want to do is write,” my 6-year-old sighed as she Velcroed her sneakers this morning. “I wish I could staple one more book. I really wish I could get started on the next one.”

“Well, hurry up and get ready for school so you can,” I said, amazed that I could suddenly use writing time as a motivator on a busy school morning.

You see, up until a few days ago I had a reluctant writer on my hands. She loved to draw and would happily flaunt her knowledge of basic sight words, but when it came time to sit down and sound out words to spell them phonetically, she would freeze. During remote learning last spring, half an hour of me painfully pulling three sentences out of her and onto the page would leave us both grumpy and drained. And when she did have a story idea, she would forget it half-way through writing down the sentence—probably because the act of building the words took so long.

But something happened in the last few days that boosted her confidence and set her on the road to authorship. Maybe it was a new strategy her teachers taught this week. Maybe it was a summer of reading Dog Man that’s now flowing onto the page. Maybe it’s the rhythm of the hybrid learning model we’re in with time to write both in school and at home. Maybe it was wanting to be like her big sister who just taught her to draw a unicorn with speech bubbles. Maybe it’s that fresh pack of colorful markers and a stapler that finally works.

For whatever reason, the literacy stars are momentarily aligned, and we are rolling with it.

Most days I wake up to find my four kids already stuck to their screens playing some computer game or watching cartoons. (Yes, I admit this whole COVID-19 pandemic and remote learning situation has totally relaxed screen time norms around our household.) Yet that was not the case today.

I walked into the living room to find my 8-year-old daughter making a picture book series on the coffee table, complete with a spotlight color for each volume. Because she is an avid writer, this part didn’t floor me, but it did make me smile. It was a nice break from waking up to Peppa Pig or Roblox marathons.

Next, I glanced over to the windowsill and noticed my preschooler gathering a stack of computer paper and attempting to fold it in half.

“I’m making a sticker book,” she proudly announced. “It doesn’t have any words, though.”

“That’s ok,” I said. “You could use stickers to tell a story.”

“I do have ABC stickers!” she realized with glee, running off to continue her project in her “workshop.”

Finally, I peeked around the corner into the kids’ room to see if my 6-year-old had also caught the writing bug. Sure enough, there she was coloring and writing down letters with gusto.

“I’m almost done with my book. But don’t look!” she insisted, covering up the surprise ending with her hands.

“I won’t peek,” I promised as I took her temperature—part of our NYC school’s daily health screening for in-person days. “I love that you’re making your own book. What inspired you?”

“‘Cause Bethany.” Of course. She wants to be like her big sister. “I want to be a good writer, so I’m writing lots of books.”

Chalk it up to sibling competition or just having a positive role model around, I love seeing the trickle-down effect of good habits. Now when my oldest daughter hunkers down to doodle and write, my first grader follows suit with her own creative spelling and sketches, and even my preschooler can’t resist the pull into writing mode—folding paper, placing stickers and forming letters.

They even watch each other cope with mistakes, such as turning a misspelling into part of the drawing, taping on extra paper, or strategically placing a sticker. And the best part of all: celebrating the finished product by sharing stories.

Ready for school a few minutes early, we all gathered around my 6-year-old’s writing table to read her story. We ooo’d and ahhh’d over the whimsical drawings and did our best to decipher her words. We gave advice on how to place speech bubbles from top to bottom and left to right and laughed together at the funny ending.

“I wonder what new writing ideas you’ll think of at school today?” I asked my daughter as I dropped her off with the first graders.

“Maybe I could write about my books!” she exclaimed, jumping onto her spot in line.

Look out world, there’s no stopping her now!