Alberto Carrillo was noticeably nervous before a recent public reading of his first published work. "I thought that they were going to laugh at me," he said.
But his tale--"Los Animales," a seven-sentence story about a group of cows, turkeys and horses that blocked traffic one day--was well-received by the crowd of 20 parents and teachers, and Alberto turned to autographing books in the slow, deliberate script of an 8-year-old.
Alberto is one of three students from Euclid Avenue Elementary School whose works have been published in an international collection of Spanish-language short stories written by children for children. On a recent Sunday, Alberto joined two other young authors for a promotion at Arroyo Books in Highland Park.
Alberto, a studious third-grader and a 1992 student of the year, owes the early recognition of his writing skill in part to Editorial Amaquemecan, a Mexican publishing company hired to produce the professionally illustrated paperback volumes, and to a nonprofit Mexican literacy organization that dreamed up the project.
Te Regalo un Sueno, the nonprofit organization, has published books by children for children in Mexico for a decade, said Liliana Santirso, general manager of Editorial Amaquemecan. The organization asked Editorial Amaquemecan to publish the 1992 books, a more ambitious project that included works by children in Spain, the United States and Latin America.
The 1992 publication commemorated Christopher Columbus' arrival in America, said Santirso, who hopes the books will increase understanding among nations.
"We started with the idea of children with a common language," Santirso said. "The idea is that if children can read (works by) each other, they can know more from each other."
Editorial Amaquemecan has already sold the 3,000 books it printed last year and plans to print more, Santirso said. In addition, she is negotiating the sale of the rights to one of three books done for the project to a United States publisher, which she declined to name.
For now, Arroyo Books, a Spanish-language bookstore, is the only U.S. distributor of the books, which sell for $4.95. Profits go to Te Regalo un Sueno, Santirso said.
Diane Corbin, a teacher at Euclid, learned about the story contest by accident while scouting for books at a Mexico City book fair in November, 1991.
At the fair, Corbin met Santirso, who told the teacher that she needed stories from American children. Soon after, Corbin collected about a dozen stories from her class and another class at the school to send to Mexico. By last November, three of those children were published authors. The three volumes--"Cuentos de Plumas," "Cuentos de Fuego" and "Cuentos de Arena"--divide the stories by age group--6 to 8, 9 to 10, and 11 to 12.
One of the works is by Griselda Garcia, 11, who spent about 10 minutes in 1991 writing "El Nino y El Angel," a story about a young boy who becomes an angel. When Corbin told her a year later that the story would be published, Griselda was ecstatic. "I wanted to scream," she said. "I couldn't believe it."
Corbin, who has been teaching elementary school for 22 years, said the story contest provides an opportunity for children such as 12-year-old Bertha Rodriguez to build self-esteem. "She's very shy," Corbin said of Bertha. Getting published "helps because she can see that her work is appreciated."
Bertha, though soft-spoken, expressed quiet confidence about her future before standing up to read her Spanish-language story, "Bosque Magico," about quarreling siblings whose adventure in a magic forest brings them closer together, and a poem she had recently written in English. "Since I was little, I liked to write, and today I want to be an author," she said.