By Steve Klein, NVWP TC
For every writer, there is a first time for everything.
For Alice—pronounced Ah-LEE-chee—Kammer, the first book she ever picked up was written in Italian. Alice was reading in Italian before she was reading in English.
But Alice was reading in English even before her first day at Patrick Henry Elementary School in Arlington, where she is now a fourth grader.
“She loves to read and write, but I never taught her to read,” says Alice’s mother, Paola Gaiardi Kammer. “We have books all around. Even in the car. She becomes immersed. And then, she’s gone.
“You don’t have to ask Alice to read. You have to ask her to stop reading.”
Alice was one of 12 students grades 3 through 12 who read from their own writing—nonfiction, fiction and poems—chosen from the 10th edition of Falling for the Story, an annual anthology of exemplary writing by the students of teacher consultants of the Northern Virginia Writing Project.
Alice and the 11 other youngsters read their work before a gathering of more than 75 family members, friends and other lovers of good writing at the Old Town Hall in Fairfax City on Sunday September 30 as part of the 14th annual Fall for the Book Festival. The festival is Northern Virginia’s oldest and most expansive literary festival, featuring more than 150 authors.
But these 12 youngsters, and the 58 other first-time published authors in the anthology, are special, according to Hilarie Jennings, one of the book’s editors.
“The only difference between a published writer and someone who loves to write is that the published writer has the guts to get his or her work out there,” said Jennings, who along with fellow editor Charlotte Foster, introduced each of the presenters Sunday.
And talk about guts! Each of the presenters, from the youngest like Alice to Centreville High School senior Georgeanne Stuebner, displayed great flare in their delivery, occasionally looking up at the audience, smiling during the funny parts, and gesturing when appropriate as they shared their writing.
If they were nervous, it wasn’t apparent when they were reading.
Alice delivered her nonfiction story, “Backyard Diversity,” in a strong, confident voice. She finished by hugging her copy of the book, a wide smile directed toward her mom, four-year-old brother, Rocco, and her third-grade teacher, Dahlia Constantine.
“I want to be like Alice when I grow up!” said Constantine, who sat in the first row with Paola and Rocco, beaming with pride. “She has a remarkable outlook on life.”
“She has her own self-created world of dragons!” Paola said with a look of wonder on her face. “When she reads and writes, she is transported into another dimension.”
For Alice, this was the first time she has ever read her own work before a large group of people.
Was she scared?
“No, just excited,” said Alice, whose story was nonfiction yet still breathed the fire of dragons in its description of blades of grass, worms, and ladybugs.
“Even the tiniest things that we, as people, almost never think about can be as diverse as we are,” she read, exhibiting wisdom that belies her age.
Also beaming with pride, Paul Rogers, director of the Northern Virginia Writing Project, sat next to his own young daughter, displaying trademark patience and attentiveness.
“This event celebrating student writing is really at the heart of our approach of teaching writing,” said Rogers, who has guided the NVWP since founding director Don Gallehr retired from the Project in 2011. “Bringing together this publication and the public reading is a pinnacle kind of event for us, especially because you’re also involving the community with the parents.
“It’s a special coming together for us celebrating the power of writing.”
For Alice Kammer, even as young as she is, the writing process is liberating.
“[Mrs. Constantine] taught me to put detail into my work,” Alice said. “Fiction gives me a bit more liberty about what I like to write about–dragons! Nonfiction is for real things.”
And this from a fourth-grader!
“I’m just awed by their ages,” Jennings said of the presenters. “Adults can’t write this well. Hearing their actual voice come out like this today is even better. The accent, the inflection brings these stories to life.”
Other presenters on Sunday included:
- Ze-Nable Adisalem, grade 3, Patrick Henry Elementary School
- Courtland Blake, grade 5, Frances Hazel Reid Elementary
- Caitlin Bonner, grade 8, Chancellor Middle School
- Alex Bowman, grade 6, Rocky Run Middle School
- Kevin Chesson, grade 7, Mark Twain Middle School
- Olivia Ferrer, grade 8, Westminster School
- Kate Lanman, grade 3, Patrick Henry Elementary School
- Rafael López, grade 7, Gunston Middle School
- Lauren Mostrom, grade 10, Thomas Jefferson High School
- Naomi Naik, grade 11, Thomas Jefferson High School
- Georgeanne Stuebner, grade 12, Centreville High School
The online edition of Falling for the Story volume X is now available!