When a couple of authors met with fifth-graders in the Patwin Elementary School library last week, they didn’t need to travel all that far — one of them, in fact, works in the library; the other toils just steps away in the principal’s office.
And together, library technician Meera Klein and Principal Nikki Smith were able to provide the Patwin students with a first-hand look at the writing business — from seeking inspiration to meeting deadlines to dealing with rejections and still persevering.
Smith is the author of a Little Golden Book — “The Little Christmas Elf,” published in 2011 — and Klein is the author of “My Mother’s Kitchen,” which will be published in October. Both are works of fiction, though Klein’s is based on her childhood growing up in India and features favorite Indian recipes.
So even though her fifth-grade students were writing nonfiction books, Patwin teacher-librarian Wendy Chason figured who better to talk about the publishing world than the two authors these kids see on campus all the time.
One of the first thing both authors talked about is why their author names look different from the names they use every day.
Smith noted that had she gone with “Nicole Smith,” she would have been one of many Nicole Smiths. So she went with Nikki Shannon Smith, using her nickname and her maiden name as well. Now, she said, if someone Googles “Nikki Shannon Smith,” she — and her book — are the first results that pop up.
Klein noted that there probably aren’t that many “Meera Kleins” in the world, but she also used the name passed down to her by her mother, Ekkanath, in her author name, “Meera Ekkanath Klein.”
Fittingly, the dedication in “My Mother’s Kitchen” is to her mother as well, “for letting me soar.”
Before speaking to the fifth-graders assembled in the library on Thursday, Klein and Smith walked around looking at the books the students had made.
Chason, a school district librarian for 25 years now, has been doing the book project with fifth-graders for years. First they learn the parts of the book, then pick a nonfiction topic and choose three books from the school library for research. Then they create the book itself, complete with cover, title page, table of contents, chapters, index and more. They write everything by hand, and add their own illustrations.
Garrett Milner chose the country of India as his topic, “because it’s my favorite country and I wanted to learn about it.”
Dedicated to his dog, Charlotte, Milner’s book covers various aspects of India, and researching the material “made me want to visit even more,” he said.
“It’s actually really fun to make a book,” he added.
Abby Fisher focused on rabbits for her book.
“I have three bunnies at my house so I knew a lot about rabbits,” she said of her topic. “But I learned a couple of things, too.”
She dedicated her book to her pet bunny, Fluffy, and included chapters on food, cleaning and safety.
Chason said students have been very dedicated to their books, with some coming in at lunch to work or as several did on Thursday, working through recess.
“These may be our future writers,” Chason noted.
And their principal found great inspiration in them.
Smith said she’s been thinking about a nonfiction story idea for a couple of years, “but I have not been brave enough to start.”
After spending time with the fifth-graders this week as they worked on their books, though, that changed.
“I woke up with an idea this morning, got out of my bed and started working on it,” she said.
If it’s anything like the process that went into “The Little Christmas Elf,” beginning the writing will just be the start of a very long process for Smith.
With her Little Golden Book, Smith told the students, even after the story was finished, there was still much work to do.
First she turned it over to friends in her writing group to edit, “then I rewrote it, and rewrote it and rewrote it again.”
When she was finally finished, she sent it to a publisher and didn’t get any response, for a year.
“Then she sent me an email … ‘Is your book still available?’ ” Smith said. “I screamed … ‘I’m going to have a book!’ ”
But even then it still took a lot of time — an illustrator needed to be found, for instance — before the book finally was published a few years ago.
“I’m not all that patient,” Smith told the students, “but I had to be.”
Her message to the aspiring writers in front of her: “Don’t give up.”
Klein, who has been a library tech at Patwin for nine years — and a parent volunteer for 14 years before that — knows all about perseverance. She started her book back in 2009, while working with a group of writers.
It’s the story of a young girl growing up in India — much as Klein did — incorporating the food of her own childhood as well.
“I sent this book to 70 people,” she said, “and got 70 rejections.”
Then she sent it to a 71st person and received a “Yes!”
“I was so used to being rejected,” Klein said, “so it was disbelief.”
She didn’t really believe it was happening, in fact, until a copy of the cover arrived, and even now, Klein said, “I’m still pinching myself.”
She’s also still editing, and explained to the students the many deadlines laid out in front of her before the book will finally be published and available for purchase this fall.
The Patwin fifth-graders didn’t have to deal with all of that while making their books, of course, but showed no less pride in their results than Klein and Smith.
Katelyn Vo focused on art for her book — specifically the art of Egypt, China and ancient Rome. She dedicated the book to her mom, dad and sister, Madison, and even included calligraphy and a “Meet the Author” section.
When she was little, Vo said, she wrote a book about ice cream, but hasn’t written a book since — until now.
The project, she said, reminded her of “how much I like writing.”
— Reach Anne Ternus-Bellamy at email@example.com or 530-747-8051. Follow her on Twitter at @ATernusBellamy