Grade-school Pupils Take A Page From Guttenberg

Youngsters Publish Their Own Books

December 29, 1991|By Donna E. Boller | Donna E. Boller,SUN STAFF

Kristina Schappeler dedicated her first non-fiction book to her mother, her riding instructor and the horse she rode at horse camp last summer.

She really loves horses, and she wishes she had one of her own, but horse camp was the next best thing. So when teacher Emily Vissers conducted writing workshops for her fifth-grade class at Northfield Elementary School, 11-year-old Kristina wrote a book about horsecamp.

She said the book took a long time to write, "half an hour or 45 minutes."

"Horse Camp" is due out from Roadrunner Press as soon asthe volunteers who make up the school publishing company meet with the author to edit the manuscript, type it on the computer, make galley proofs, proofread it, return it for illustration, make copies, collate and bind it.

Roadrunner Press, named after the school mascot, is open to any pupil. The author and teacher each get a copy, and a third copy is kept in the school library.

"This is not a program that publishes the best writers in the school," said founder Jo Lamp. "We believe any child can write at his or her own level."

A sampling from Roadrunner Press:

* "The Magic Cucumber," by Laura Goss. A cucumber hops down the hall and grants a wish to Tommy, the hero. Tommy wishes for a hamburger, but accidentally sits on the burger.

"Don't worry," the cucumber assures, "I can make you a new one, and also, it didn't have any kethcup or mustard or pickles."

* "The Halloween Story" by Adam Kessler, 7, a second-grader. Two friends hear moans, then confront frightening tall figures, but save themselves. "We made them really dizzy and then they dropped dead."

* "The HauntedHouse" by Holly Sutton, 9, a fifth-grader, illustrated by Kristen Hankins, also 9. The story centers on an old house with a well in the front yard from which a bloody hand occasionally emerges and pulls in those who stray into the yard. A witch who lives in the house -- "almost all of her teeth had cavities in them" -- traps a brave, selflessgirl in the well.

"Trapped forever, the little girl decided to save others. Whenever anyone came near the well, they would hear the little girl say, 'Don't come near.' "

Roadrunner Press got its startwhen Lamp, who has been volunteer coordinator at Northfield for six years, heard about a similar program in Georgia.

"I took it to thePTA and said, 'I don't want to be put in charge of this,' " she recalls with a laugh. Of course, she was put in charge of it. She and volunteer Bonnie Krill launched Roadrunner Press "in Bonnie's den and mydining room."

Two other volunteers helped with typing. William Lamp wrote a computer program to space the type properly and other volunteers printed copies at their offices. The little press turned out 100 books in its first year.

The program has become more sophisticated and now operates with a $2,000 annual budget from the PTA. Volunteers work out of an office in the school, and parent Gary King, an architect and graphic designer, contributed a Roadrunner logo. Parent Suzanne Gross, a former teacher, has trained 12 volunteers to meet with pupils to edit manuscripts.

"We do not want to change the flavor," Gross says.

Editing is gentle. Parents ask questions like, "Didyou spell that word the same way the last time?" to alert children to spelling errors.

"The first goal of the program is self-esteem. The second is creative writing," Gross says.

To foster both, the volunteers check younger children's manuscripts only for punctuation and spelling. Third-, fourth- and fifth-graders read their manuscriptsaloud to the volunteers to be sure the book says what the authors intended.

To spare parents the temptation of helping to "fix" the child's work, all manuscripts for Roadrunner Press must be produced in creative writing classes and gone over with the teacher before they are submitted for publication. Any pupil may submit a book -- but no more than one book in each school year.

Parents have asked to buy additional copies, but three is the maximum the volunteers can produce. They laugh about "glue parties," where 10 to 12 parents get together to glue plain white paper onto the mats that form the books' covers, bind the books and apply the titles, which are printed on clear plastic.

Finished books are presented with a flourish. A volunteer comes to the classroom, gives the author a copy and pins a Roadrunner Press button that says, "Read My Book" on his or her shirt. Publication is also announced over the school intercom.

"You should hear thereaction from parents when kids get their books," Gross says.

Volunteer Ellen Sutton recalls that when her daughter Holly received hercopy of her book, she took it door-to-door to show the neighbors.

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