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Heroes of fiction
Middle school students write tales that make younger students central characters.
By MICHELE MILLER, Times Staff Writer
Published January 9, 2008
Natalia Rodriguez, 13, an eighth-grader at Bayonet Point Middle School, reads to Schrader Elementary School first-grader Julian Ortiz, 6, from a book titled Saving The Island. Natalia wrote the book for Julian after interviewing him, then read it to him on Dec. 20.
[Stephen J. Coddington | Times]
NEW PORT RICHEY - The fun of fiction is that anything is possible.
Take Natalia Rodriguez's recent prose, Saving The Island.
In her story, a plane ride from Florida to Madagascar takes only two hours. Spider-Man puts in an appearance, and Aquaman does, too. So does a rather brave boy named Julian and another called Tucker. Both boys, it turns out, are first-graders at Schrader Elementary School in real life.
Julian Ortiz's face lit up as he first heard the tale about his adventure in a children's book Natalia spent weeks writing and illustrating just for him.
"Tucker's my best friend!" said a wide-eyed Julian as Natalia, 13, read on.
For Natalia, the literary labor was worth it, especially when Julian told her what he thought of the book.
"Wonderful," he said, in between bites of animal crackers.
"I took him on a trip I thought he would like," said Natalia, who interviewed Julian at Schrader before sitting down to write. "I found out that Madagascar was his favorite movie, that he had a best friend named Tucker, that he was really into Spider-Man."
That interview, and the ensuing book, proved to be valuable lessons in writing for Natalia and other eighth-grade students in Joanne Giglio's and Megan Riley's language arts classes at Bayonet Point Middle School.
Before the winter break, Bayonet Point Middle School students wrote 112 books for kids at nearby Schrader Elementary.
Giglio, who works with educable mentally handicapped students in mainstream classes, came up with the idea years ago when she was a teacher at Hudson High. She continued the book project after moving to Bayonet Point.
Riley was quick to come on board, and she suggested that they include all students. This year Riley received a $500 grant from the Pasco County Education Foundation to provide plain, white hardcover books that students could illustrate for the project.
"Our kids love doing it because they're being creative," Giglio said. "They're allowed to write their own story, and they're giving something to a little person."
"For our kids it's a real application of the writing process," said Riley. "There's communication skills with interviewing. They're learning and applying the elements of fiction. There's editing and proofreading skills. And the elementary kids are at a great age, because they think our kids are the best thing since sliced bread."
"It's amazing," said Cathie Cotts, who teaches kindergarteners and first-grade students at Schrader. "The kids were so excited when they (middle-schoolers) came over to ask them questions. They couldn't wait for them to come back - especially for a few of the kids that don't have older brothers and sisters.
"I'm very impressed," Cotts said. "These books are wonderful - so creative. This is something the kids can keep forever."