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War and peace …

Kelsey wore a long dress, glasses, gloves, and shawl; she had assembled a chignon. A fourth-grader researching and writing a Victorian novel, she works on it nights, and often at recess.”It’s 802 pages!” her classmate Thorne fervently reported.It is, in fact, 205 (handwritten) pages long.”It’s a lo-o-ot of work,” said another student, Teddy, admiringly.Kelsey would produce a faux British accent when she read: “Dinner was always at least four courses.” “She might get freckles or, worse, a tan.” And the foreboding: “Later, she would wish she had treasured this moment.”It was third- and fourth-grade Authors’ Night. First, parents toured a circle of author booths, which offered bios of each child and several writing samples.Then the teacher, Mike, asked who would like to read, and up shot wildly waving hands. As the children began, a most unsurprising overall pattern developed. The girls wrote, wonderingly and affirmatively, about feelings, their lives and the romantic long ago. The boys’ stories were of intergalactic battles and such events as the hurried deactivation of forcefields.In a story by Karen, a king and queen went walking, met, and after minimal dialogue married, “and they had a baby and they loved it.” Another girl wrote about a lost Easter egg “that nobody wanted,” eventually rescued into the basket of the actual Easter Bunny. Kaleigh’s poem included, “I touch the tears on my mother’s face/ I wonder if my dad cries/ I understand math/ I am today, I am tomorrow.””Forty Martians were killed,” intoned Clay, “and 1,000 wounded.” In another boy’s story, Carbondale was attacked by giant stink bugs. Rescue vehicles screamed to the scene; a propane truck exploded. In “The Lone Sausage,” various foods engaged in vast intercity warfare: “Then Scrambled Eggs took a hit and became Fried Eggs.” The boys’ stories featured several undercover agents and countless police officers. Their verbs were “electrocuted,” “slammed,” and “splintered.” No one fell in love at all.Read Colt: “He was from the M5 in London but he said he was from the CIA, and he was really being chased by the Japanese mafia. ‘I need your help,’ he said. ‘You need a mental-health center,’ she said.” (His written version spelled it “mentil.”)Meanwhile, in kinder landscapes, young Julia gave the names of every one of the 15 pet dogs and 26 puppies in her story. Another girl wrote about one who owned “999 million” stuffed animals.One boy wrote about his relationship with “The most annoying sister in the world.” Yet his was a story of emanating pride: visiting a zoo, the sister freed whole cages of gorillas and giraffes. It took a SWAT team with a tranquilizer dart – “to the temple” – to stop her.In the end, what emerged from one framework was endless individuality. Tucker, dressed pridefully in a blazer, read a researched report on the inventor Nicola Tesla. Another boy read a haiku about fire, another of how his father had stayed on a bucking horse. Then Sam took the stage with “Mr. Migraine.””Mr. Migraine likes to live behind my eyes,” he read. Through creative personification he described “screaming and screaming,” sleeplessness, lying still with his mother, and massages from his father. He even got a laugh with: “Mr. Migraine doesn’t like ice, Motrin, and Coca Cola.” Sam’s conclusion – to a perfect, rapt silence – was, “I hope you never meet Mr. Migraine because he is not a good friend.”Studies indicate that children perform best – beyond themselves – in front of small, supportive audiences. A few kids had been shy and reluctant about the evening, but every one came through.”This is my book of poems. I don’t want to read it,” Bobby said honestly – but he did. Eric had said adamantly, earlier in the week, that he would never stand up and read in front of everyone. And he did, and well.Alison Osius lives in Carbondale and can be reached at aosius@hotmail.com (write GSPI as subject heading).Alison Osius lives in Carbondale and can be reached at aosius@hotmail.com (write GSPI as subject heading).


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