I had not thought of children as authors of children's books until I read an item in our local newspaper. According to Peggy Olsen, a staff writer for the paper, Dolores Gonzales, a teacher at Grace Miller Elementary School in La Verne, California, has been turning third and fourth graders (and even some first and second graders) into authors for the past five years. Not just writers of classroom assignments but authors of published books.
Mrs. Gonzales "opened the doors to creative writing for her students" when she established at the school what she called the Grace Miller Publishing Company. At this "author center" more than 400 books have been produced by students who are "encouraged to write from their own knowledge." Some of their works of fiction are "The Day It Rained Candy Canes," "Dingo, the Small Bear," and "My Trip to Cyprus."
What caught my attention, or my ego, in Peggy Olsen's article was this: "Students have gained respect and appreciation for books, a fact shown on library day when they eagerly ask for works by such authors as Richard Armour or look for books with illustrations by a favorite, Leo Politi." I was intrigued not only by children's writing of books but by their good taste in reading.
A picture file and object display are the starting point, providing inspiration for subject matter with which to work, or to play. Mrs. Gonzales is quoted as saying, "Rarely do you have to put ideas into children's heads. Inside them are stored such wonderful ideas, such riches."
At Mrs. Gonzales's author center, young students are prompted to go through all the steps taken by professional writers, from the initial idea to the rough draft to revision (with the help of local authors who volunteer their services) to the finished work, typed by other volunteers. The author is also the illustrator.
Then comes the selection of a binding, which is made lively by use of a vinyl wallpaper cover. And the book is a book.
On the day of the author party, grandparents fly in from distant places, parents take time out, even a day off, and the child is "puffed up" with the awareness of being an author.
It is an exciting day. "The new author," according to Peggy Olsen, "sits in a special chair to introduce parents and receive the badge of authorship. To read the book, the author is allowed to sit, stand, or even tower above classmates while standing on a classroom table."
Mrs. Gonzales, who started turning young students into published authors, has published a book herself, "Creative Writing: An Author Center for Children." Through this she hopes her plan will be taken up by other teachers.