First-grade presidents and authors

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Six-year-old Christina McGee wants a makeover for the White House.

She thinks it needs a new paint job. "I would paint the White House hot pink," she wrote.

If she were president for a day, she'd also be a pop star. "I'd also have enough money for 100 pets," she wrote.

Her thoughts and those of her fellow first-grade classmates at Franklin Elementary School -- accompanied by their own illustrations -- are published for posterity in a book titled, "President for a Day."

The book, its front-cover featuring photos of the student authors dressed in Abraham-Lincoln hats and beards, is a national finalist among the books published by Nationwide Learning Inc. of Topeka, Kan.

Winners in the contest will receive $100 scholarships and their books will be featured in company promotional efforts.

All 200-plus students at the Cape Girardeau elementary school authored pages for 94 different books.

Kindergartners, first- and second-graders authored books by class. Eighty-eight third and fourth graders each authored their own books.

Franklin School has been in the publishing business for the past four years, with the help of Nationwide Learning Inc. which provides the layout sheets, and prints and binds the books.

"They don't charge us for anything," said school principal Rhonda Dunham. "I think it is an awesome deal." The company makes money by selling copies of the books to interested parents.

Dunham said the books encourage students to write. They learn about the whole writing process, from first draft all the way through the editing process.

"Research shows that if children see something published it encourages more creativity," Dunham said.

The students began writing and illustrating their books in November. The school mailed off their works to the publisher in late January. Teachers distributed the hardback books in mid-February.

"We have no particular guidelines," Dunham said regarding what students can write.

The publishing projects also draw interest from parents who often help encourage their children to be creative, Dunham said.

"I like it," said Tina Wright, whose 8-year-old son, Tevyn, is a second grader at Franklin Elementary School.

"It gets the kids thinking and writing and being creative," she said. "They get that sense of pride when they get to do their page."

Wright said it's important that children get to illustrate their stories too. "My son likes to draw. He draws on everything," she said.

Students at South Elementary School in Jackson joined the literary world this year too. Each of the 18 classes, first grade through fifth grade, produced a book, published by the same company that Franklin School relies on.

"Each student wrote one page and did an illustration to go along with it," said Jennie Webb, reading specialist at South Elementary School.

It marked the first time that South Elementary participated in such a writing project.

"The kids were very excited," said Webb. "They felt that sense of accomplishment."

Franklin School first-grade teacher Holly Black, whose students are among the national finalists for their "President for a Day" book, said the project promotes literacy.

Black said her students learned about writing and editing by creating the book. It also encourages students to read, she said.

Smiles creased the faces of her students as she handed them each a copy of the book. Students thumbed through the books, looking for their individual writings and drawings.

Black said her first-graders learned about Presidents George Washington and Abraham Lincoln in class. So it made sense to create a book based on what her students would do if they were president, she said.

Black's students had no shortage of ideas on what they would do as president.

"If I was president for one day, I would have no rules. I would have my husband fix my hair," wrote Taylor Allen, 7. She too would paint the White House pink.

Interviewed about her paragraphs in the book, Taylor said it would be great if she didn't have parents' rules to follow and didn't have to risk being grounded.

Noah Jones, 6, thinks it would be fun to be president.

"If I was president for one day, I would play football. I would play games. I will trick people and buy dogs," he wrote.

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