May 17, 2018 -- When a published author reads your poem and describes it as “astonishingly sophisticated, with internal rhymes and nuanced metaphors,” you know you’ve made it. Third grader Nara Young’s “Spring, Spring,” the poem in question, was one of 13 pieces of creative writing selected for Roxboro Elementary’s recent Children’s Ink event.
The annual “celebration of children’s writing” was started by now-retired kindergarten teacher Lynne Maragliano 20 years ago. After attending a poetry reading for adult writers, she thought, “Why aren’t we doing this for kids?”
So they are. Each year, RoxEl students from kindergarten through 5th grade are invited to submit a piece of their own creative writing to a committee of teachers. The selected pieces are read aloud in front of the entire school by guest readers – local adults who “use writing in their careers and lives,” according to 5th grade teacher and program coordinator Jennifer Thomas.
This year’s readers, who remained a surprise until the event began, included everyone from children’s author Tricia Springstubb, who was “very impressed” by Nara’s poem, to Heights Middle School teacher, author and illustrator Jerome White, Appletree Books owner Lynn Quintrell, and Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Mike Donnelly.
Each student and their adult guest were introduced to the assembled crowd by International Baccalaureate coordinator Melissa Garcar before coming to the stage. The honored student would then sit in a turquoise Adirondack chair among potted flowers, while their adult partner read their work from the podium.
The experience is a very public celebration of what is usually a private act: reading and writing. Ms. Springstubb used her time at the podium to encourage children to keep writing, and not just for events like this: “Whether you write a story for the public, or whether you write in your journal for yourself, whether you write a letter to the President of the United States or whether you write a letter to your grandmother, if you can put your thoughts and feelings onto paper, that’s a power.”
The selected students certainly felt that power, as they beamed with pride or watched behind shy eyes as their work was read aloud to their peers. Second grader Nora Dew, whose short story “Monster in my Closet” was read by community business leader Kathy Blackman, was “really, really excited and a little nervous” before the event.
Guest reader Sharon Broussard, a writer for Cleveland.com, acknowledged that nervousness when she said, “Entering this contest is a brave and bold thing to do. I was a closet scribbler for many years.”
Some teachers use Children’s Ink as the inspiration for a writing lesson and have their entire class submit a piece. Other submissions come voluntarily from children who simply love to write.
“This whole thing was a win for everyone,” said 3rd grade teacher Kristi Glasier. “Even for my students whose work wasn’t chosen, it was such a lovely process for promoting writing.”
There are no parameters for what students should write about when submitting their work although many chose every day activities or objects as their themes. Most wrote poems, including Kate Jaycox’s acrostic “Locker,” which included a visual aid, revealed by her reader with each new verse.
As Ms. Garcar pointed out multiple times, “Inspiration can come from anywhere.” That was certainly the case for 5th grader Aamani Oatman who wrote her poem “Car Wash” while she was sitting in the car wash with her mother. “I remembered that I had to write a poem while I was there and then I realized, ‘Hey, this is pretty good!’”
“When I was little, I was always scared there was a monster in my closet who was gonna eat me,” said Nora Dew, of the inspiration for her story, which featured monsters throwing a party and eating all her cookies and milk.
Big Fun owner and “Cleveland Heights icon” Steve Presser asked the audience to remember what day it was (May the 4th) before he began reading 2nd grader Henry Burkhart’s story “Hamburger Kingdom.” “It’ll be important . . .” he promised before he opened up with, “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, . . .”
Children’s Ink founder Ms. Maragliano was the final reader and expressed her immense pride for all the students. “I’ve had tears in my eyes and a smile on my face this whole time,” she said before reading kindergartner James Smith’s poem “Apple Pie.”
“But to those of you who didn't get chosen, keep writing. Not necessarily to get picked for this, but do it for what’s in your heart.”