Child Prodigy Adora Svitak Speaks with

Oct 20, 2021

By Douglas Fehlen

adora svitak TED Talk Dancing Fingers Flying Fingers prodigy genius writer author presenter speaker NEA Outstanding Service to Public Education Can you tell us about your books 'Dancing Fingers' and 'Flying Fingers,' including when and why you wrote them?

Adora Svitak: My first book, Flying Fingers, is a compilation of short stories that I wrote between the ages of six and seven. By the time I was seven I'd written hundreds of short stories, but I felt they didn't have a genuine audience. I wanted to put out a book to get a larger readership, so I decided to publish Flying Fingers. My second book, Dancing Fingers, is a collection of poetry from my sister Adrianna and me. We published it when I was 11 and she was 13. Dancing Fingers is arranged thematically, into categories like 'Common Nonsense' (humorous poems), 'Reflections' (reflective poems) and 'Leaves, Stars and Stones' (nature poems). My sister's poems are very different from mine, and the variety in style and theme shows readers that there's no one way to write poetry. As an avid reader since age three, you are a passionate advocate for literacy. What were your earliest experiences with books, and why do you feel it's important that young people enjoy reading?

AS: From a very young age, I can remember thinking of books as prized possessions. My parents often read to us, and I loved hearing new stories every day. My drive to promote literacy and reading started with my love for books. Or, more accurately, my realization that there were kids who said, 'I don't like to read and write.' I had honestly thought that everyone loved reading and writing; the idea that someone might not love reading and writing had never really crossed my mind. Being an obstinate five year old, I decided I had to somehow start changing things. That provided the impetus for me to begin speaking at schools, writing and getting published. In addition to being a writer, you're also a teacher. How would you describe your experiences in the classroom?

AS: Unlike many teachers, I do not teach in a fixed classroom in a school. (I'm still a student myself, as a matter of fact.) Instead, I teach via video conferencing to different classes every day, in schools around the world. I have more than 30 different presentations. Generally I present programs about writing, like personal narrative or writing from prompts. I've had very positive experiences teaching students. My favorite times are when they send me emails or letters afterward telling me how much they learned. You consider yourself an activist. Can you share the causes you believe in and why you support them?

AS: I am a youth representative for the United Nations' World Food Programme (WFP). Last December I traveled to the Batticaloa region of Sri Lanka to see maternity health and school feeding programs supported by the WFP. Ending world hunger, particularly the idea of mobilizing youth to combat hunger, is an issue I care about deeply. One of my longest-running causes is promoting literacy and the love of learning. I also speak frequently about the issue of youth voice and how adults can learn from kids. These issues - ending world hunger, education and youth rights - are ones that I continue to promote. You're also a highly sought-after speaker. What topics do you most enjoy presenting on? Why?

AS: I really enjoy presenting on education topics. One of my most fun speeches was at the Entertainment Gathering conference, where I spoke about education and what needs to be done to ensure that we're helping to foster creativity, not just the three Rs. I also enjoy presenting on what adults can learn from kids. These two topics are important and interesting, and they promote discussion among audience members. In February, you delivered a TED Talk called ''What Adults Can Learn from Kids.'' Can you explain to our readers some of the ideas from that presentation?

AS: My TED Talk explained the idea that we have too many low expectations for children, and that we don't do enough learning from young people. Using examples of young people who have done great things as well as my opinion - that adults need to realize how much we have to teach as well as learn - I discussed the idea that, since it's up to my generation to solve a lot of the problems adults have created, maybe adults ought to at least lend an ear. Being such a productive author, teacher, activist and speaker, how do you find time to do homework, have fun with friends and do other 'normal kid' stuff?

AS: Definitely I can be quite busy at certain times, especially if I'm preparing for a trip. But other times I am able to relax some. Going to an online school helps a lot - it allows me to keep up with homework assignments while I'm traveling. Last semester I was able to take two electives at my local junior high, which allowed me to have the brick-and-mortar school experience while still having some travel freedom. I'll likely have a similar arrangement again next year. I do have time on the weekends occasionally to see a movie with friends. A lot of it has to do with time management and when I have speaking engagements. My house is pretty hectic in the time leading up to a trip, but I'll have a month here or a couple weeks there of peace. :) Finally, is there anything else you'd like to share about yourself, the activities you're engaged in or your plans for the future?

AS: I am currently involved in continuing to advocate charitable issues, writing new books, teaching, speaking and organizing TEDxRedmond, a TEDx (or individually organized event under license from TED). TEDxRedmond is an event organized by youth, for youth, with all-youth attendees and speakers. This will be our second year running. (We're currently starting the speaker search, and we're also looking for sponsors.) You can learn more about my writing, teaching and speaking at my website. I also provide updates on Twitter (@adorasv).

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