Young writers offer support through their art

Havre de Grace Middle School pupils pen stories of hope for children in Uganda


Cheeny Celebrado-Royer flipped through the pages of a book, stopping occasionally to look at pictures. She held up the book - Experience Two Different Cultures - to show the cover illustrations.

"I wrote this book to help kids who have to go to strange places and learn to live a different way," the 14-year-old Havre de Grace Middle School pupil said.

She not only wrote the story, but she also illustrated, researched, designed it and oversaw production of the finished version. It's one of 90 created by eighth-graders at the school as part of a project to send books to children enduring hardships in other countries.

After spending almost a month making the books, the students will unveil them to their parents at the school on Tuesday.

The program is called Books of Hope and operates in conjunction with the Memory Project, a nonprofit organization that gives pupils the chance to be involved in humanitarian aid through art. The Wisconsin-based foundation was started in 2004 by a college student after an orphan in Guatemala told a visiting college student that he didn't have pictures or parents to help remember his youth.

The books are intended to give the children an emotional lift while also helping them learn to read. Topics include famous places, animals, people, clothing and cultures. The Havre de Grace pupils' books will be distributed to some of the 40,000 children who live in the villages of Northern Uganda, said Brenda Barbato, an eighth-grade language arts teacher at the school.

After learning about the Ugandan children's plight, the Havre de Grace pupils wanted to help. So Barbato and Ronnie Eckhardt, also a language arts teacher at the school, included the book project in the daily lessons.

The project entailed research on Uganda and how children there live. The only criteria are that the hardback books contain illustrations and nonviolent text and that they be no larger than 8.5 inches by 11 inches.

Using a book of about 22 blank pages, the pupils included a fictional publishing company, a copyright date and time, a short biography on the author, a dedication page and a title.

The topics included nonfiction - birds, culture and skateboarding - as well as fiction, such as stories about an elephant that travels abroad, a tortoise that watches a big screen TV, and a girl who wishes on a penny.

Pupils said it was a learning experience from start to finish.

Eric Lynch, 13, wrote a book called Birds of the World, published by Woodpecker Inc. Publishing Co. His book includes information about 18 birds. He brought eight books from home to his class and copied pictures of birds to use.

"These kids are going through a lot right now, and I want to do this to try to help them feel better," Eric said.

Cheeny's book explains some of the differences between the Philippines and the United States, such as culture and language.

Emily Feustal, 13, said she took to the project quickly in part because of the difficulty she experienced in moving from Colorado to Maryland last year.

"I was really scared. So I thought I'd write a book about a happy place where dreams come true," she said.

In Emily's book - My Wish - a girl finds a penny and wishes on it.

"I hope that the kids in Uganda know that everything will not always be bad," Emily said. "So at the end of my book, I ask them what their wish is, and I hope that it comes true."

Brittney Welch said the project helped her cope with the death of her grandmother. The 14-year-old said she could empathize with the children in Uganda to a certain degree, because of that hardship.

"It was really hard when my grandma died, but I could not imagine being like these kids and losing my whole entire family," said Brittney. "The kids in Uganda must be strong because I could never survive being there."

Alex Newhart, 13, wrote a version of The Tortoise and the Hare.

"I wanted to show the kids in Uganda that it's OK to be scared, and that they can overcome their fears," Alex said. "They might see they are not alone when they feel bad."

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