Nine-year-old Richard Scerbo listened in silent awe as the student-author known as "Little Shakespeare" at the Key School in Annapolis read excerpts from his book at Tracey's Elementary in South County.
But instead of the tragic drama crafted in "Othello," 13-year-old Michael Cain mystified Richard's fifth-grade classmates with "The Legend of Sir Miguel," a tale about knights in rusted armor, a beast in a forest, an ancient wizard and a witch.
"It was pretty good," Richard said afterward. "I like adventure books, and the people going on adventures in the book are neat."
After Michael's presentation to students in the school's media center, Richard told the young author he was interested in following in his footsteps.
Michael himself was in fifth grade when he launched his first attempt at writing books (he also did the accompanying illustrations) as part of an annual contest run by Landmark Editions Inc., a Kansas City, Mo., educational publishing company.
On his first try, Michael won fifth place with a Christmas book titled "Kringle's Big Idea." But he was determined to pen a first-place winner.
In 1989, "The Legend of Sir Miguel" accomplished that goal, landing him two week-long trips to the Missouri publishing house for revisions and one-on-one editing sessions. Michael also received a $5,000 college scholarship and 5 percent royalties -- about 65 cents a book. That money will begin going into his college fund within the next few months.
Already, the book is on the shelves of school and public libraries nationwide.
"When we saw it at the Library of Congress, they said it would be there for my grandchildren to see," he told his wide-eyed audience.
Nine-year-old Nicholas Rogers described his favorite part of the book, but said he found it hard to believe that someone so young could write like that.
"It's like someone 24 years old wrote it," Nicholas said. "I liked it, but I thought he would be old, not someone almost my age."
But it was hard to remember that the confident, dark-haired author was only a teen-ager as he began discussing the details of his work. The soft-spoken student in the striped button-down shirt and gray pants fielded questions from students like a pro, although once in a while he referred questions about details of his speaking engagements to his mother.
Using an overhead projector to highlight his characters and show how they were created, Michael told students he has a sequel in mind. "I don't want to talk about that much, since I'm still developing it," he said of Sir Miguel's fate. "I'm planning to take some time off now."
His mother, Patricia Mason, also on hand to answer questions from students, said her son deserved a break after using early mornings and vacations to complete the book.
"We're very proud of him," Mason said. "When a child says to you that he wants to do something like this, you say go ahead.
"But we didn't know how serious he was. He gave up Christmas and Easter vacations to work on it. We had to force breaks to the mall or just away from his work."
With grueling rewrites behind him -- for a while at least -- Michael is busy reaping the rewards of his labor. Being an author means being booked for speaking engagements at schools throughout the country. He had to turn down a request to speak at a school in Minnesota in order to read to students at Tracey's, the first county school at which he's spoken this year.
Michael is scheduled to talk about student publishing at three conventions this year, including the Association of Independent Schools in Baltimore and a convention for librarians in New York.
With such prominence, of course, come frills. "When I went to my first book signing, my parents rented a limousine," Michael said. "I had never been in a limo before."
All the attention hasn't gone to the well-mannered eighth-grader's head, although he is planning to turn his success into a full-time career as an illustrator for Disney Studios.
"I'm hoping to go to the Maryland Institute of Art," he said. "The scholarship will help because tuition for me, by the time I go to college, will really be expensive."
Michael is hoping to use some of his money for a June trip to Disney World and get a glimpse of professional illustrators in action.
"I've already written to them, and they said I would be able to go behind the scenes to see how professional illustrators work," Michael said.