June 24, 2018
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First-graders become the main characters in new storybooks

By Brian Swartz, Of the Weekly Staff

BREWER — When a zombie grabbed her foot on Halloween, Kate could not get away until her twin brother, Charlie, rescued her. The fact that Kate was a witch and Charlie a skateboarder made no difference to the zombie and other dastardly denizens prowling in “The Haunted House,” a book written for Kate by Brewer High School senior Rebecca Rivers.

Kate and Rebecca met at Brewer Community School on Feb. 11, when some 50 first-graders received individual storybooks. These featured no generic plots; each book cast a particular first-grader, like Kate, as the main character — and a BHS student authored each book.

Students in three first-grade classes at Brewer Community School wrote letters to Brewer High School students enrolled in creative writing classes taught by Michelle Macdonald and Kevin Napolillo. In the letters, the first-graders were “basically saying what they like to do, what their name was, maybe their favorite color or what their sibling’s name was,” said Riley Thurston, a BHS junior.

According to BCS teacher Cora Coffey-Roope, “the first-graders practiced letter writing, telling about themselves.”

“Our students took the letters and made the first-graders the main characters in their own stories,” said Macdonald, an English teacher. “The goal this year was to get all first-graders a book in their hands.

Each high schooler received one letter and wrote one book; a few students wrote two books.

Going to digital publisher Storybird.com, each student selected an illustrator and “used the illustrator’s artwork to complement the story,” Macdonald said. Thurston, a Brewer resident, worked with letters written by first-graders Lauren and John. She studied the youngsters’ information, then went to Storybird to develop the respective books.

Lauren likes cheering; Storybird had few cheerleading illustrations, so Thurston “picked ballet.” In her storybook, Lauren “is a famous ballerina.”

For John, who likes superheroes, “I wrote about a little boy who plays soccer by day, and at night he’s superhero,” Thurston said.

Each book ran 10-12 pages, with artwork placed on each page first. “”We wrote around it, a few sentences per page,” Thurston said. Writing was geared to the first-graders’ reading level.

Brewer High senior Joshua Lugdon, who lives in Dedham, transformed a letter from first-grader Blake into a storybook titled, “The Adventures of Blake.” In the book, Blake goes fishing with his father. His sister, Kadence (her actual name), casts a spell to make herself a fish, but the spell backfires and turns the family dog, Parker, twice the size of a bear.

After reading “The Haunted House” at least twice with Rivers, Kate said that “I like ‘scary’ anything.” In her book, she dresses as a witch for trick or treating and goes with her brother to a haunted house. Inside Kate encounters a ghost and later a zombie (which resembles a walking mummy) that really bother her. Charlie rescues her twice, and the story has a happy ending.

Each first-grader received a gift-wrapped and personalized storybook; youngsters soon clustered to look at each other’s books and giggle about particular illustrations. Standing amidst the excitement inside the Brewer Performing Arts Center, Coffey-Roope said, “Now that they’ve got the books, it helps them with their reading.

“I think they’re very excited,” she said. “They can share it (a book) with their friends and take it home.”

“This is probably my most favorite [English] project,” Thurston said. “I felt like it was really important. We had to pay attention to the grammar and punctuation.

“It is one of the more complex projects I’ve worked on,” she said.

“My kids love to open the books and see something they’ve published,” Macdonald said.

She said that later this school year, Brewer High students will write similar storybooks for students in the other two BCS first-grade classes.

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