Kiddo! Spotlight: Young Authors’ Fair

By Candace Murphy

A dust jacket with a chunky, hand-lettered and heavily inked title warns, “If You Give a Chick Some CHIPS!!!”  In another corner, a sleek, manga-styled graphic novel lures those wanting to know what happens when a tiger follows a girl home. In another, a Bartlett pear and purple fig approach for an embrace in “The Story of Fig and Pear,” an allegory that offers hope of peace and love between the fruit families.

With as many variations in final product as students, the book publishing industry was front and center recently at Edna Maguire’s Young Authors’ Fair. A story-writing program whose funding comes from a grant from Kiddo!, the Young Authors’ Fair came to life from the imaginations of teacher librarian Lisa Monge and second grade teacher Adam Sanchez.

“Adam used to participate in a Young Authors’ Fair created by his own grade school librarian,” Monge says. “We used to talk about it all the time since he had such great memories of participating. So six years ago, I wrote the whole concept up and applied for a Kiddo! Teacher Mini Grant.”

Kiddo! teacher grants, which have been given out for more than 20 years, are awarded in support of programs that foster creative and innovative classroom teaching (to learn more about the grant process and to see which grants have been funded for the 2016-17 academic year, click here). The Young Authors’ Fair, held every year of the past six except for the one year lost to the construction of the rebuilt elementary school, has been an enormous success at Edna Maguire. Such a success, in fact, that Monge hopes the template can be replicated at all the Mill Valley School District schools.

At Edna, it was exciting to see the funding, once again, come to life. A total of 181 students in grades 1 through 5 first entered the fair by submitting finished stories to Monge and then attended a workshop, by grade, with hands-on activities which included making leather wristbands, creating a stop-animation video and drawing with the iPad app Osmo Masterpiece. The children also had the chance to read their works aloud.

Monge’s participation is a family affair. Since the teacher librarian makes it a point to read each book entry — and make comments on sticky notes for each author — she tackles her daunting syllabus by reading the stories aloud to her own children at bedtime.

“They know you guys!” Monge says to the gathered students. “They ask me, ‘Is Camilla going to write another story this year?'”

The undisputed highlight of the fair is its traditional finale — an all-school assembly featuring Berkeley-based, Caldecott Medal-winning author Mac Barnett (“Extra Yarn,” with illustrations by Jon Klassen, “Rules of the House,” “Triangle,” and more).

Barnett, who also pens the Brixton Brothers mystery novels, spoke to the kids about the process of, and decision-making in, writing and publishing a book. This resonated strongly with all those eye-rolling third graders who are still getting used to the many drafts required of authors. Barnett upped those third-graders’ ante by pointing out the added trickiness of working with editors and illustrators, a feat that puts pleasing the classroom teacher to shame.

Another revelation as the fair neared its end was Barnett’s “key to writing,” elicited by one student’s pithy question, “So, what’s your secret to writing?”

“The key is always paying attention to the world around you,” says Barnett. “When you see something beautiful, or hideous. Or when your friend says something you can’t stop thinking about. Or when your worst enemy says something you can’t stop thinking about. All that stuff you care about? It’s the job of the author to figure out what you care about and how to make everyone else care about that same thing.”

By the end of the fair, the students had their manuscripts, illustrations and book jackets, but many more had summaries, author biographies and copyright details. Some students, who had participated in the Young Authors’ Fair in years past, even produced sequels to earlier works.

“Some kids might shine in sports like soccer, or in drama, or in music. This is another opportunity to shine — kids who love to write can be seen as authors,” says Sanchez, who last year hosted a workshop where he helped children make making writers’ notebooks and this year oversaw the Osmo Masterpiece action. “Kids very infrequently have a chance to take a fiction story through the regular writing process. Twenty years ago, sure, but now, letting kids pursue fiction, open-ended, is the exception.”

The success of the fair is unquestioned. According to the kids’ comment cards that were collected after the fair, highlights include journal-making, as well as leather bookmark-making and the reading of their own works aloud. Parent feedback is also positive, including the praise from one volunteer who wrote of her daughter’s experience, “Mac Barnett’s message about writing multiple drafts [is] hugely important to her as she absolutely hates to proof read, let alone rework, her writing…Today was a great day with meaningful impact.”

But perhaps most telling was the comment from a student named Sylvia, who helped decorate a banner that the kids were encouraged to pepper with thoughts about the writing project: “The Young Authors’ Fair has encouraged me to keep writing, and have fun while doing it!”

To read more about language arts in the Mill Valley Public Schools, visit the District’s Curriculum page and browse their information on Common Core standards.

 

Lisa Monge became a credentialed classroom teacher in 1997 and taught for seven years. While she has been at Edna Maguire since 2001, she has worked in the Old Mill, Park and Edna Maguire libraries over her years in the school district and she has spent the last four years exclusively at Edna Maguire. Monge has two children in elementary school in Fairfax.

Photos from top to bottom: Three self-made books from Edna Maguire third graders are displayed on a table; Teacher librarian Lisa Monge addresses third graders as the Young Authors’ Fair nears its finale; Author Mac Barnett reads from his as-yet unillustrated book, “Square”; Barnett poses with five students who have entered submissions to the Young Authors’ Fair since its inception at Edna.