Child author's book tour Attention: An 11-year-old from Ocean City was greeted by fans of all ages as she visited two Baltimore County elementary schools to talk about her work.

September 10, 1998|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

Two third-grade girls shrieked like star-struck fans when Carmen Phillips entered Riverview Elementary School yesterday.

The state superintendent of schools acknowledged she was "envious" of Carmen's artistic abilities. The principal of Chase Elementary School called her an "inspiration" for young writers.

All of the attention was more than a little unfamiliar to Carmen -- she is just an 11-year-old from Ocean City.

But as the author and illustrator of the children's book "Cleocatra," Carmen was invited to tour two Baltimore County elementary schools yesterday, shaking hands, autographing books and talking to students about reading and writing.

"I was nervous in front of all of these people," said Carmen, whose one-day book tour meant she missed her second day of seventh grade at Worcester Country School in Berlin. "But it was fun trying to help others to write."

Preparing for author's visit

At Chase Elementary, students had prepared for Carmen's visit since the first day of classes. They read her book -- a tale about the "Queen of the Cats" in Egypt -- and were required to write letters to Principal Maria Hofmann to convince her that they should be selected to attend a pair of book parties in Carmen's honor.

"It's a great inspiration to the students to talk to someone their own age who has written a book," said Hofmann, who selected three students from every class to meet Carmen.

Carmen arrived at the school with her mother, Janet, and her grandparents Shirley and Brice, who own the Phillips Seafood Restaurant business in Maryland. Many state and county educational leaders joined at least a portion of the tour yesterday.

Overcoming an understandable case of nerves, Carmen sat in a rocking chair like an adult author and spoke to the students in the school's balloon-adorned library.

"You can't just write one thing and like it," Carmen told the students in explaining her writing process. "You have to write a rough draft and then revised copies and, when you really like it, a final copy."

She also urged would-be writers to "read a lot, because you see a lot of different styles of writing so you can see what you like best."

Her advice drew approving nods from the educators -- and even inspired at least a handful of students to pursue writing.

"It was exciting," said Chase fourth-grader Krista Dembo, 8. "I want to write a book, too."

Carmen, who illustrated her book, took a few minutes to show her drawing abilities, effortlessly sketching cats, pyramids and dragons for the children.

At the end of the visit, Carmen took on a task familiar to most experienced authors -- autographing books.

The 60 or so children who met Carmen lined up to receive copies of "Cleocatra" with personal dedications. The books were donated by Lou Grasmick, owner of Grasmick Lumber and the husband of state School Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick.

Carmen produced the book with her family's help through an uncle who works in the publishing industry. All but 200 of the original 2,000 hardcover books have been given away or sold, Janet Phillips said.

Book tour veteran

Yesterday marked the first time Carmen has visited elementary schools to share her book, but it wasn't her first book tour. During the summer, she visited camps for young writers on the Eastern Shore and, two weeks ago, her book was on display at the 18th annual Baltimore Summer Antiques Fair.

By the time she arrived at Riverview Elementary in Lansdowne, Carmen was beginning to take on the manners of a veteran author.

She routinely flashed her smile -- showing off the teal-green rubber bands in her braces -- and greeted the younger children with ease.

"Look, there's Carmen!" shouted third-grader Kelly McCabe, who was dressed like Cleocatra with a long sock serving as a cat's tail because her class was to act out Carmen's book in a short play.

Carmen also starred in a television production at Riverview, reading her book to all students over the school's internal cable network.

Another book

Answering questions from students, she revealed her writing plans -- a 100-plus page story about cats in Asia called "Kung Fu Kitty."

"A month after I got 'Cleocatra' published, I was so excited that I decided to start writing again," said Carmen, who has three brothers and four cats. "I never thought about becoming an author until my grandmother mentioned it to me, but now I really like writing stories to go with my pictures."

Pub Date: 9/10/98

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