Pupils prove they have what it takes to write Contest: A class of fourth-graders at Glenmount School won the opportunity zTC to contribute to a children's reference guide about states.

May 08, 1998|By Alec Klein | Alec Klein,SUN STAFF Contributing writer Lisa Viscidi provided information for this article.

The writers wrote. The editors changed their words. The authors weren't paid.

A class of fourth-graders at Glenmount School in Northeast Baltimore got a taste of what it's like to be published, winning a contest to write a chapter on Maryland for "The Kids' Book of the 50 Great States," a reference guide for children written by children and available in stores nationwide this month.

The Baltimore writers will appear at Borders Books & Music at 2 p.m. May 23 in Columbia and at noon May 30 in Towson.

"It's our 15 minutes of fame," said 10-year-old Matt Connelly, who has known he wanted to be an action-adventure writer since the second grade.

The young scribe -- who sat two chairs away from the maternal but stern gaze of his teacher, Anne Phillips -- explained the experience this way: "If I could describe this thing in one word, it would be 'exasperating.' You think it's perfect. You strive to get it right finally."

And then an editor swoops in.

Now they know.

It was a lengthy learning process.

Phillips, who entered the contest by writing an essay on why her class should write about Maryland, found out in December 1996 that it had been chosen. More than a year later, the pupils have graduated to the fifth grade, and their work can be bought for $14.95 in a 216-page book, 10,000 copies of which have been printed by Scholastic Inc., a leading New York publisher of children's books.

"It's important to connect school to the outside world," Phillips said. "It means more."

Selecting winners from more than 1,000 entries in a national contest, Scholastic brought meaning to dozens of 8- to 12-year-olds in 50 classes, one for every state selected to write a chapter.

The project was a chance to inject life into similar books written by grown-ups that are "a little dull sometimes," said Liza Charlesworth, Scholastic's editorial director of instructor books who came up with the idea of recruiting the young talent.

The book reflects the writers' tastes, featuring children's ideas of what to see in their home states. The book contains quirky facts and the children's drawings, such as 11-year-old David Johnson's sketch of Cal Ripken Jr. swinging a bat.

Classes worked with their teachers and editors from Scholastic to hone their work. Massachusetts students interviewed Sen. Edward M. Kennedy. President Clinton wrote a letter to Arkansas students about his birthplace. Indiana students learned they are the leading state in popcorn production.

At Glenmount, 10-year-old Nikii Williams discovered that she wants to write books and Eryn Dailey, also 10, learned that Maryland is famous for its crabs.

Dien Pham, 11, found out that Maryland has a state dog -- the Chesapeake Bay retriever.

"I thought it was weird," he said.

Then there was 10-year-old Karanjot Jaswal. "I wrote a little thing telling about the history of Maryland," he said, "and they messed around with it, and I couldn't tell if it was my work or not."

Pub Date: 5/08/98

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