Matt is a fourth grade teacher who enjoys great reads and is kid in disguise. Dawn is an author who loves crossing cultures and equipping writers to pen untold tales. Together we are passionate about nurturing budding young writers on Chicagoland.
“Come on, “ I groaned. I’d been waiting forever. And a day. It was August 15, two days before school started and the day of the “Meet & Treat.” The event was designed to your new teacher and enjoy a delicious creamy snack—my favorite summer treat, ice cream!
I’d already planned my whole debut outfit for the first day of fifth grade, still two
long days away. I would wear a grey skirt and a stylish blue and green sparkly tank top. And now I was all ready to head to the “Meet & Treat,” to see my friends finally after the long summer.
I glanced at my watch. It seemed like I had been waiting to leave for hours, although I knew it had probably only been minutes. Soon my mom’s white Toyota rolled into the driveway and she hopped out of the car. She gazed at my eager face and sighed.
I began skipping at top speed around her. “Can we go to the Meet & Treat now, please?” I begged.
That’s when she dropped the bomb: “We moved you to Madison.”
What?” I asked, stunned.
“We decided today,” she said again. “We moved you to Madison.”
The realization hit me like a bird hits a window. A rush of tears streamed down my face like rivers.
I tried to lick my tears away but there were just too many. I tried again, “How?”
My voice felt weak and quaky. I could taste the salty tears that were still spilling down my cheeks. I couldn’t seem to get the words out. I hiccuped.
A sudden thought began eating away at my mind. What if I never saw my friends again? Then I remembered we’d go to the same middle school. That was a relief, but it didn’t last long.
A second terrifying thought quickly replaced the first. What were the new kids like? I wondered. Were they nice? There was only one way to find out.
Evelina, 11, is in the 6th grade. She loves all animals, playing viola and learning about history. Evelina hopes to be a realistic fiction author and an endocronoligist.
It was our last soccer game of the U8 Wheaton Wings’ season. I always play defense, but after half time I played forward for the first time. The sun started shining. I was so happy my face looked like I had just won a brand new bike. I pondered why the coach had never put me on forward, but of course, I knew how to play.
Five minutes passed but nothing exciting happened. Then, one minute later, I scored my first goal! The crowd started cheering. I felt so happy. This time my face looked like I had just won a gold coin. This experience really made me want to try playing forward again.
Aria, eight, is in the fourth grade. She is a middle child who loves to read and write fiction. Aria plays soccer on the Wheaton Wings and wants to be an optometrist when she grows up.
My dad has a Harry Potter scar on his forehead. He will tell you that he was trying to protect me from a swordfish. The two of them were in an awesome battle when the cranky swordfish flew out of the water and used his blade to mark Dad’s head with a zigzag just like Harry Potter. This is the story of what really happened that day.
It was our first day on the beach. We had just spent all day in the hot Florida sun. We loaded up our things and set across the crispy sand. Finally, we reached the end of the sand and began hiking up a long ramp to the little foot showers. We hauled all our stuff behind us. It felt like we had been climbing Mt. Everest.
When we got to the foot showers, we rinsed sand off our feet. I finished and sat down on a bench nearby. Dad was already seated on the bench across from me. Suddenly he got up and began to sway in circles as he tried to take a few steps.
“What are you doing? Sit down!” my mom said.
Dad started to fall slowly. Then there was a thud. Everyone rushed over to see what had happened.
After about five seconds, he awoke. Luckily, a young emergency room nurse appeared on the scene. She wasn’t working that day and had seen everything.
While the nurse talked about my dad’s faint, I cried on the bench. I was scared to see Dad fall.
“Look, his sunglasses cut his forehead where he fell,” my mom said.
“Since he fell in murky water, he should probably get a tetanus shot,” said the nurse. “And some butterfly bandages.”
“I’m going to pull the car up,” said my mom’s friend, Jenn.
After the car pulled up, we loaded in and sped away to our rented house. Jenn, my brother and I were dropped at the house. My mom took my dad to get his tetanus shot and butterfly bandages. I was so glad he was okay.
If you ask my dad how he got the scar on his forehead, he’ll surely tell you about the swordfish. My dad is my hero so I like to think that’s what happened too.
Olivia, 10, is going into 5th grade. She loves hedgehogs and reading Harry Potter. Olivia hopes to publish a fantasy and wants to become a florist.
As our car zoomed through the city of Lombard, I stared out my window, not looking outside but thinking. “What would it be like in the hospital? What would my sister look like?”
I tried to picture it in my mind, but I could not. I bit my bottom lip nervously, then I looked up at my dad driving and my grandma talking to him. I looked back out the window, now looking for the hospital.
“Is that it?” I asked as a large building loomed into sight.
“Yup,” replied Dad.
I watched it come closer and closer and felt a rush of excitement.
Once we found a parking spot, we headed inside to the elevator. I pressed the circular button for number two and we went up.
Behind a pair of glass doors, a lady sat behind a desk. “May I see your name tag?” she asked. Dad unzipped his sweater and showed her his pink name tag. Then she asked Grandma her name. “Shinja Lee,” Grandma replied.
The lady typed Grandma’s name on the computer in front of her and gave her a pink tag to wear. Then she told me, “Your mother is in Room 313, on the left.” We left her and headed down the hall.
When we reached Room 313, my dad opened the door. A curtain surrounded the bed, so we closed the door and I pushed open the curtain. Mom was holding my baby sister in the bed in the middle of the room. Grandma and I sat on the couch, and Dad sat on a chair in the corner.
“Can I hold her?” I asked Mom after a minute.
“Yes,” she said. “Get a pillow and put it on your lap,” she added.
So, I got a pillow in my lap and cradled my arms as if holding a baby. Then the real baby came!
I felt very comfortable and put my head down beside hers. I felt her breath on my cheek.
Mylene, eight, is going into third grade. She loves to read Harry Potter and enjoys all art. This is Mylene’s first published article. She wants to write mysteries.
Waiting in line at the high dive, I felt my stomach tighten. I was as scared as a dog in a thunderstorm. The next person jumped. Then it was my turn. Oh no, I thought. I started climbing the ladder, feeling my stomach tighten even more. Don’t look down, I advised myself. When I got to the top of the diving board, my friend Olivia called out, “You can jump now!”
Part of me didn’t want to jump, but the other half did. My heart was thumping out of my chest. I took a deep breath, slowly walked to the edge of the high dive, took another deep breath, jumped up and out, then fell. I felt like I was falling 50 feet. “Ahhhhhhh!!!” I cried. I was flying!
When I hit the water I heard the pshhhh as I hit and felt the water soak into my swimsuit.
I didn’t know why I had screamed. I loved it! It was the best day at the pool ever—as awesome as getting a new beagle. I swam to the edge of the water knowing then and there that I would never be afraid jumping off the high dive again.
Bella, 10, is going into 5th grade. She loves reading Harry Potter, riding horses, and all nature. Bella also enjoys writing fantasy and fiction. She would like to have a fantasy book published in the future and wants to be a rancher.
I had never been on a scary ride before today. I arrived at the carnival and smelled popcorn. After we went on a few other rides, my friends, Jane and Molly, wanted to go on the Freak Out ride. We walked over to it and heard music lyrics, “Freak out!” We asked two teenagers getting off, “Was it scary?”
“No. Maybe the first time. If you’re scared, just close your eyes,” one said.
When we got on the ride, we had to take off our shoes and socks. I shut my eyes tightly as the ride started. At first I was surprised it wasn’t so bad. It was swinging relatively slowly and turned a little.
But out of the blue the ride started wildly swinging from side to side, turning very fast. My stomach dropped, and then filled with butterflies flying frantically. My head dropped when the ride ended.
I was glad I didn’t barf. But now I can say that I rode the “Freak Out.”
Maddie, 9, enjoys dancing jazz, musical theater, tap and ballet. She also enjoys reading. Maddie wants to become a fantasy or humor writer.
I wanted to think this was the one. I really hoped that I would return home with a furry friend to play with, but the chances were low. My family and I had been to several other pet adoption events and still we were petless.
“Are we there yet?” asked my little brother, Owen. It was only a short drive from my grandparents’ house where we were staying to the Anderson Animals dog adoption event.
“Now we are,” said Dad. I hopped out of the van and felt the blazing sun even though it was late September. To the right, I saw a big black and white guard dog chained to a metal pole. He was barking furiously. I hoped we wouldn’t adopt a dog like him.
We strolled across the parking lot into the adoption area. There were two blue tents with tables underneath that were covered with pamphlets, papers and candies. And there were dogs, lots of dogs. There was a big, slobbery dog, a miniature noisy dog, a white fluffy dog, and two Havanese puppies, one of which was blind. “It will need a special home,” said Mom.
But we were there to see a dog named Darby. My mom had looked Darby up on her phone and thought she could be a decent pet. The only problem: another family was already interested in adopting her. Putting that fact aside, we approached Darby and her foster mom, who was walking her.
Darby barked and pulled on her leash just like the guard dog had, but unlike him, she didn’t give me the chills. “She’s very puppy-ish,” said her foster mom, though we could already see that.
While Owen, my little sister and I stroked Darby’s silky blonde coat, my mom and Darby’s foster mom talked. “Maybe she isn’t the right dog for us,” my mom said, after she’d finished. “And besides she is already going to be adopted by another family.”
So we weren’t getting a puppy this time either. My heart sunk to my toes. Maybe next time. (I hoped there was a next time.)
“Can we still look at the other dogs?” I asked my parents hopefully.
“Of course,” they said. I was observing a small white dog with curly hair when my mom called me.
“Look at that dog,” she said. “He doesn’t seem bothered by any of the other animals around him.” She pointed to a small dog, about a foot and a half long and a half foot tall with reddish brown fur and pointy ears. We walked over and asked his name.
“It’s Dave,” said the volunteer walking him. “He hasn’t barked, nipped or jumped at any people or dogs in the one hour I’ve known him.”
The adoption event offered rooms you could take a dog into to get to know them better. “May we get a room with Dave?” asked my mom.
The room was bare except a single chair in the corner, not that I expected anything more glamorous. We took turns walking Dave around the room on his lash, petting him and testing his reactions when we touched his head, poked his paw, or felt his tail. He didn’t seem to care. Could he obey basic commands like “Sit,” “Stay” or “Come”? He apparently could not.
I didn’t want to leave when the volunteer told us our time was over. “Time to go back to your grandparents’ house,” Mom said. My smile disappeared. I didn’t want to go! I had actually connected with one of the dogs this time. But maybe it was just as I’d suspected, another unsuccessful attempt at adopting the perfect canine companion.
I sulked the whole ride back. Once there I cried and pleaded with my parents to return for Dave. Finally they agreed, but my mom doubted a good dog like him would still be there.
My whole family, included my grandparents, climbed back into the minivan and drove back to the adoption event. I crossed my fingers, hoping the little pointy-eared dog was still there waiting for me.
When we arrived, I hopped out, not even glancing at the guard dog. I flew across the parking lot. At first I didn’t see him–I must not have been looking hard. Then I saw him come round the side of the building on a leash with the same volunteer.
I ran over and stroked his soft fur. I grinned from ear to ear. I couldn’t believe he was still here.
When the volunteer said Dave had remained well behaved the entire day, my mom looked like she was starting to consider adopting Dave. This time we got a bigger room with Dave and an employee discussed adoption with my mom. Finally Mom said, “Yes!” I didn’t know what to do! Should I laugh, jump up and down or just smile? I decided to pet my new dog.
We all agreed that we couldn’t keep the name Dave, so we decided to name him Buddy. When we told him his new name, his face got wrinkly, his eyes squinted, and I think that might have been a smile.
Elliana, 9, is going into the 4th grade. She takes Irish dance with her younger sister. Elliana’s poem was published in a young authors poetry award book in 2016. She wants to write a news article and have it published. When Elliana gets older she would like to be in a movie.
Last week our eight budding writers penned personal narratives of life-changing moments. They did the hard work of creating a second draft, then a final draft showing, not telling emotions, adding strong verbs and more. We’ll be posting their articles one by one here. Enjoy stepping inside the world of our young writers!
You know how there are days you never want to end? August 3, 2013, was one of those days. It was my sister’s birthday and she was turning five. The day was almost over. The sun was setting and all the guests hit the road.
Our family plopped on the couch. Out of nowhere my mom said, “Your dad and I have one last gift for you, but this one is for both of you.” We leaned in to listen. A cool chill ran down my spine. “You’re going to have a baby sibling!” she announced.
I was speechless. I jumped for joy, panicking at the same time. I could already hear the baby screaming. What if I dropped the baby? I thought. I’ll have another person to play with also sprang into my mind.
The best part was that my mom had been wanting another baby and now she would have one. I went to bed wondering what would happen next.
Avani, 10, is going into 6th grade. She likes to play soccer on the Wheaton Wings travel team and dance classical Indian Kathak. Avani writes realistic fiction and mysteries. She hopes to be an optometrist and publish a mystery series.
Vivid writing that captures the reader’s imagination includes the five senses of sight,
sound, touch, taste or smell. Our budding writers created sensory poems in their journal assignments last night. Evelina, 11, shared this:
Brightly colored leaves falling
Aromas of pumpkin and apple pies
Crinkling and snapping leaves and sticks
A sip of hot chocolate or warm milk
A fuzzy sweater wrapped around you on a long walk
Today, the last day of our workshop, our eight budding writers gleaned ideas from Wheaton author and writing teacher Margaret Philbrick. She offered these great tips for continuing to hone the gift and discipline of creative writing:
1. Create an intersection between your reading and writing. Consider: Why do you like or not like what you’re writing? Try to imitate the style that you like in your own writing.
2. Balance your reading between books you want to read or those your friends recommend with books you know you’ll be challenged by via ideas, vocabulary, etc.
3. Know your purpose and audience in writing a particular piece before you start. To entertain a peer? To inform? To persuade? Stick to it. 4. Enter poetry contests. It’ll improve your own poetry even if you never win. 5. Gift others with your writing. Write special poems to give as gifts to people you’ve written them for. Start work on a story now that you’ll finish in time to give friends and family copies of for Christmas. 6. Share your writing in a writers club. Margaret meets monthly with her writer group and gets feedback on her writing. You’ll get invaluable input from other writers. 7. Always write in a journal– ideas, feelings, questions. Create a separate journal only for travel. It’ll keep your memories alive and spark writing ideas. 8. Read “A Single Shard” by Linda Sue Park. Check out her website tips on writing.
Today our writers graduated! We look forward to these shelves being filled with many poems, articles and stories penned by the writers in this group. We’ll be posting our budding writers’ articles here in days to come. Check back soon.
Day one of our workshop was bursting with the dreams of our eight aspiring authors, ages 8-11. Guest speaker, author Tony Romano (pictured at right), encouraged them to put dreams into action and write daily. Discipline more than talent makes a writer.
Here’s what our budding writers aspire to:
Evie hopes to be a realistic fiction writer and endocrinologist.
Avani hopes to become an optometrist and publish a mystery series.
Aria loves to read and write fiction and also wants to become an optometrist.
Mylene wants to write mysteries.
Elliana wants to have a news article published and act in a movie.
Olivia wants to have a fantasy novel published and become a florist.
Bella wants to have her fantasy book published and be a rancher.
Award-winning author Tony Romano likes to write about things that disappear. His books focus on families of Italian immigrants in the 1950s—When the World Was Young and If You Eat You Never Die. Tony has also published two textbooks. He was born in Italy and moved to Chicago with his family when he was eleven months old. He now lives in Glen Ellyn, IL, with his wife and teaches English. Fourth grader Samantha Valente was happy to interview Tony last June in our BuddingWriters workshop.
Q: How did you get started writing?
I got started writing because I wasn’t able to swim. As a kid everyone in the neighborhood would go down to Lake Michigan and swim. But I was never able to go because I wasn’t able to swim. So I sat on my front porch and read comic books and that’s what got me started as a writer.
Q: How do you get your ideas about what to write?
It’s difficult to say where writing ideas come from. It’s like asking people why they had a certain dream the night before. That would be hard to answer but at night the dreams are random. While writing, ideas arise, almost like dreams! Maybe not as random, but still, it’s hard to say where the ideas come from.
Q: How long have you been writing?
I’ve been writing for 50 years. I’ve been doing it for so long because I love it.
Q: Where is your favorite place to write?
Sometimes I like to go down to Panera in the mornings. I write there with my favorite purple pen and sometimes my laptop.
Q: Are you planning on writing any more books and if so, how many more would you like to write?
Yes, I’d like to write ONE more book. When that one is finished, I’ll want to write ONE more. And so on.
Q: Do you write any poetry?
I don’t write poetry. But I’d like to think that each sentence I write has poetic qualities.
Q: What is your favorite type of book and why?
My favorite type of book is a novel that explores family issues. I’ve also been reading a lot of biographies and histories. My most recent favorite is Valiant Ambition about George Washington and Benedict Arnold.
Q: Who is your favorite author and why?
That’s a tough question because I have so many. But probably Richard Russo. He makes me smile. And his books are full of wisdom.
Q: Do you like to doodle?
I do like to doodle. Sometimes I doodle when I’m writing something and I can’t think off what to come up with next. I will draw stars or other doodles on the paper on which I am writing.
Q: What do you do when you have writer’s block?
I guess I don’t believe in writers block. I think writing involves discipline. If anything, I’d call it lack of discipline or discipline block!
Q: How long does it take to get a book published?
For me, it takes at least a year to get a book published.
Q: If you weren’t a writer what would you be?
If I were not a writer I would probably be a rock star because I like the whole feeling of that.
Q: Do you have any advice for young writers?
Don’t let anyone discourage you.