Literary lessons that echo
By CONNIE NOLEN / Community Columnist
“Amazing,” echoes a small voice from far below. Eric’s response to discovering that Pelham High School students would be writing books for his first grade class at Valley Elementary School earned him the nickname Eric Amazing.
PHS writers who break into small groups to produce books for first-grade students each spring are amazing. Artists join in the fun too. Fine Arts Department Chair Kim Harrison helped recruit artists this year when time was short and artistic talent was in demand.
High school writing students create these books from completely white books which come alive with storylines generated by Mrs. Haines’s first-graders’ questionnaire responses. The books contain printed words and bloom with colorful artwork. The stories address the hopes, dreams, fears and fondest wishes of these elementary school students.
With this spring’s rain-delayed mornings and odd weather-release afternoons, production time was cut precariously short. Stress associated with book completion intensified. However, students wasted no time complaining. Book proposals arrived promptly. Page-by-page plans were checked and double checked. Soon books and special wax-free Bare Book Crayons were passing hands in hallways and classrooms.
First-graders’ photos were studied and color-matched. Questionnaires were analyzed to discern the exact plot twist required. Eric’s Amazing Adventures, “Zulu the Blue Giraffe,” “The Adventures of Stink Man” and more fascinating books emerged from the whiteness.
“My favorite part of the process is folding over the edges of that laminated cover and knowing I have completely finished a children’s book. It’s a great feeling of pride and accomplishment,” veteran writer Abby Forrester said.
Arriving at Valley Elementary, the abundance of children’s book repeat writers becomes clear when PHS students join Mrs. Haines’s attention clap as if they’ve never left first grade. Rookie writers for the project are humbled by first-grader joy.
“After witnessing the children’s ecstatic reaction, I realized how worthwhile and important this project is,” said junior writer Kaitlin VanDorsten. “I loved watching Lam’s eyes light up when he enjoyed the book with his teacher.”
Watching my high school students’ discover the delight carefully crafted words create, I am witnessing this success shaping their futures.