Writer, 10, has `gift with words'

Published Darlington Elementary fifth-grader shows talent, dedication beyond her age level

May 14, 2006|By CASSANDRA A. FORTIN | CASSANDRA A. FORTIN,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Emma Reed began writing short stories in the second grade, but her stories weren't the typical few sentences that teachers usually see from their second-graders.

Emma wrote books.

Last year, she wrote and illustrated a 20-page published book called Alby the Amazing Pig, a story about a pig who goes to the city in search of a veterinarian to help an injured blue jay.

One section reads:

"Alby, with Jo on his back, walked slowly into the city. Hammers, saws, drills, hoses! Everything around them was alive. Big apartment buildings, office buildings, townhouses, developments! Everything in them was buzzing. Cars, trucks, motors, gas, pollution, trash, oil, buzz saws, talking! It was too much for Alby and Jo!"

Such writing, common for Emma, who is now in fifth grade at Darlington Elementary School, is beyond what most pupils at that level turn out, said reading teacher Dawn Stickles.

"Emma has a gift with words," said Stickles, who also teaches the Gifted and Talented program at the school. "She writes well beyond her years."

Recently, Emma put her writing to the test when she entered an essay contest with a piece titled "My Mom, My Hero." The 10-year-old Darlington resident won a $1,000 scholarship from the Carson Scholars Fund Inc., a nonprofit group founded by neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson to recognize students in grades four through 11 who have a 3.75 grade-point average or higher.

Students submit an essay based on a predetermined theme. The prize money is placed in an interest-bearing trust fund until they graduate from high school. Several Harford students were among about 60 from around Maryland who won scholarships.

Emma's father was floored when his daughter won the essay contest but credits her success to determination.

"She's very strong-willed and set in her ways," said Jeff Reed, 39. "If you try to force her to do something she doesn't want to do, she lets you know about it. She knows what she wants, and she goes after it. I think she's found something she likes, and it's up to her whether or not she's going to pursue it."

Patrick Ernst, Emma's homeroom teacher, sounded a similar theme. "She works hard at what she does, and she's a great writer," said Ernst, who has taught at the school for six years. "She picks up everything so fast, and other kids notice it."

Emma said choosing a hero for the essay was easy because when she started writing stories in the second grade she was inspired by her mother, Jennifer Reed, who is the author of about 10 children's books.

Since Emma aspires to be like her mother when she grows up, Jennifer Reed seemed the obvious choice for the essay.

In her essay, Emma wrote: "My mother is a children's author. This means she writes for children. She helps children all over the world through her stories and information. My mother inspires me and other people."

Emma said her mother's influence began when she instilled a love of reading in her and her brother, Eric, by reading them nightly bedtime stories. In the second grade, she wanted to write her own stories.

Her mother, who also began writing in the second grade, taught Emma basics, such as punctuation and how to set margins and tabs. She leaves the rest of the writing process to Emma but helps with editing. And although her mother is a published author, Emma works to maintain the integrity of her writing.

"When she changes something that I like better the way that I wrote it, I change it back after she leaves my room," Emma said.

Originally, Emma wrote for enjoyment, but now she writes to get published. She writes reviews for her mother's online children's publication, Wee Ones Magazine. Jennifer Reed, who comes from a lineage of literary types -- her grandfather wrote for a national magazine, her father owns a printing company, and her cousin is a writer and illustrator -- said Emma's work surpasses her writing when she was a fifth-grader.

"I try not to compare myself to where I was at her age," Jennifer Reed said. "She's a lot smarter than I was at that age, and she's very creative."

Emma has developed such a level of confidence in her work that she's proposing story ideas for publication, and using her mother's rejections as motivation to persevere.

In her essay, she wrote: "My mother worked hard to become a published writer. She got a lot of rejections from publishers, but she never gave up. Heroes don't give up."

Jennifer Reed said she teaches her daughter not to quit.

"I want her to know that you have to have failures to have success," she said. "She's seen her mom throw tantrums when she can't get published, and she has celebrated with me when I publish something."

For now, Emma keeps working on her writing. Every night she goes up to the work station in her bedroom and spends about a half-hour writing.

"Sometimes I can't wait to write," Emma said. "For me it's all about the thrill of getting my story out on paper."

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