Collaborating with young authors

Published 3:38 pm Monday, May 10, 2010

Pelham High School writing students returned last week from a whirlwind book tour.

Traveling via Shelby County school bus accommodations, students arrived at Valley Elementary School to greet excited first-grade readers.

Theirs was a book tour unlike any other. PHS sophomore author Emily Sansom said, “This really was the experience of a lifetime.”

Pelham High School offers two very different writing electives. Competition writing allows seniors to write for scholarships and publication.

The course is contest-driven, and very individualized, as students research and write for scholarships. Creative writing, in contrast, is a course where students write in every genre.

The two classes share only one project during the school year — their spring study of children’s literature leading to the publication of their own children’s books.

Creating their own children’s book allows students to have the full experience of publication — encapsulated into a few weeks.

Initially, students revisit their favorite children’s books as they examine those volumes that live in their memories.

My collection of children’s books filters into my classroom coaxing my high school students back into their pages.

Our partner first-grade class completes questionnaires revealing their interests; my students collaborate and begin to write. Stories are created. Blank books fill with words that catapult artwork into action.

My writers rush to deadline as their book tour date approaches. Photos of Mrs. Haines’s first-grade class on the projector smile down at my spring-fever-infected writers.

No writer would disappoint these beautiful, gap-toothed, first-grader smiles.

The morning of our trip, every writer is present to greet their readers and share their creations. We arrive at Valley Elementary, meet our first-graders and we read. PHS sophomore Melissa Mastrandonas said, “I loved being able to see our first-grader’s expression as we turned the pages. Her face would light up.”

The first-graders are delighted that the books created for each of them are theirs to keep.

Some of my students have scanned the pages of their books into the computer, keeping a digital copy to compete for a children’s books scholarship competition.

Students might win scholarship money for their efforts, but based on the glow emanating from their faces, I suspect they’ve already received a priceless gift. Sophomore Hayden Shumate said, “I never thought I could write a children’s book, so this project showed me I could do anything.”

My students teach themselves the best lessons of all.

Connie Nolen can be reached by e-mail at