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Aspiring authors watch as imagination turns to reality

Anja Kitzmiller (left) and Zoe Horn (right) work on their novels together in the Marvin Ridge Middle School media center.

The Marvin Ridge Middle School media center was humming Monday (Nov. 26, 2012) with the sounds of fingers rapidly hitting keys as sixth-graders rushed to find happy endings for the characters in their very own novels. Though that’s not to say all the books’ protagonists are heading toward a pleasant final chapter.

You can definitely sense a “Hunger Games”-esque vibe to many of the books being authored by students in the school’s sixth-grade language arts classes, as a number of young characters face risks way above their heads – being ripped from their families, dealing with love and loss and finding their own way in worlds they’re struggling to understand.

In Anja Kitzmiller’s book, her protagonist, Drew, suffers through the death of his mother, then faces life with a father who’s too busy to care. So, Drew runs away, living off the little money he can take with him. But when the cash starts to run short, he’s left with a tough decision to make about where to go from there.
“I’m at 6,507 words,” Anja said proudly on Monday. She’s targeting 7,500 words, so the ending is pretty close – though she wasn’t eager to give away the climatic conclusion for Drew.

Her writing partner on Monday, Zoe Horn, has a similar struggle going on in her yet-to-be-titled work. The little girl in her novel, Cobi, runs away after learning her parents aren’t her real parents after all. Zoe hinted that Cobi may end up back with her birth parents when everything is said and done, but with another 2,000 words to write, anything could happen.

The students are handling nearly every step of the process – though they’d likely bind the books themselves, too, if given the shot. Students came up with their own ideas for each book before crafting the stories each day on school-provided laptops. When they finish in a few days, the students will turn into editors, looking over their work and helping each other fine-tune their stories and character arches. They’ll even design their own cover art before their scripts are bound and shaped into real books the students can one day read to their own kids.

But first, they’ll have to get through reading them to their fellow classmate critics.
“We think it makes them more invested in their work, because they know it’s something that’s going to be published and out there and they’ll be able to hold it and take it home,” said Brita Mann, the media coordinator at Marvin Ridge. “From what I’ve seen of what the kids are writing, they’re doing a really good job with it (and) getting advice from friends. My son is
participating, and I read his book the other day and thought it was fantastic. Some parts made me laugh out loud; it’s very much a sixth-grade boy’s book, lots of sixth-grader humor.”

This is the second year for the project. Last year, just one class took part. Now it’s the entire sixth grade of around 500 students. Each kid will get five copies of their book, if they reach their writing goals, and Mann hopes to keep some of the best ones for a collection in the library. She didn’t say whether her son’s would make the cut.
Sitting together in one corner of the library, Asher Gallamore, Megan Bennett and Holly Walker were all deciding whether they were in the mood for everything to finish happily ever after in their works of art.

Asher’s protagonist ran away from home, but where he goes from there is still up in the air. Megan, a fan of the “Nancy Drew” novels, said she’ like to see a happy ending in the thriller she’s penning. But things were a little dodgy for her main characters on Monday. Holly is pretty sure things aren’t going to end well for her main character, but even she’s not sure what’s going to happen in the shocking ending to her novel. After all, her character got kidnapped in a sack and given to an evil mayor, so that can’t be good for anyone.

--Reprinted with permission from Union County Weekly.

Written by: Mike Parks, Union County Weekly managing editor
Posted: Dec 03, 2012 by Deb Coates Bledsoe

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