Good Reads : Teenage Writers Bring Stories to Life for Children

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Happy Bug is a very special lady bug. She goes around the rain forest making other animals feel good about themselves--the elephant about his long nose, the giraffe about her long neck and the porcupine about the spikes that don't allow him to get close to his friends.

Tucson, a mighty iguana, protects a little village from a mean monster.

And Faulkner, a fish who lost his mother, is off to find her through the dark, blue seas, with the help of a walrus.

And then there were three little boys lost in "The Outdoor Adventure." And "Jack's Farm," "Curly the Pig," "Zacto and Mondo From Way . . . Way Beyondo", and Zap, the little boy who dreamed he was a superhero. But was it a dream?

These are among the more than 35 children's books written, illustrated and produced by Ventura High School sophomores and seniors who read them to a captive audience of about 400 elementary school kids Thursday.

The high school boys' gym, where the children's literature fair, "Twice Upon a Time," was held, was hardly recognizable with its creatively decorated habitats, which served as backdrops to the stories.

Faulkner the Fish swam through a deep, blue tent, where about 15 kids sat attentively under strips of faux seaweed. Jack's Farm was complete with bales of hay and a red barn. Tucson, a real iguana, was there too, basking under the heat of a lamp.

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In each habitat, the high school students read and in some cases acted out the stories.

The elementary school kids from Lincoln, Blanche Reynolds, Oak View, Pierpont, Will Rogers and Loma Vista schools followed every move with wide-open eyes. In groups of about 15, they rotated among the habitats and got to hear four different stories.

The hugely successful event was the brainchild of David Baldwin, head of the English department at Ventura High.

"The little kids are the best critics for our writers," Baldwin said. "This is a great experience for the two age groups."

The stories were original works created over the last four weeks by honors English students, who also designed and built the habitats, Baldwin said.

"Ultimately our goal is to get some of these published," Baldwin said. The event allowed his students to step back from the pressures of school work and gave them a chance to test their literary and artistic creativity.

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Bringing together students from different ages was one the goals of the fair.

"The age groups are really segregated," said Ashley Karr, a sophomore and one of the authors of "Faulkner the Fish." "I think it is really good because it creates a community feeling."

For Georgann Olson, a kindergarten teacher at Pierpont elementary, the fair was also a chance to see how far some of the kids she had taught a decade ago had gone with their lives.

"It's just fantastic," Olson said. "It gives the little kids an opportunity to have conversations with the high school students. You hear a lot of negative reports about high school, but this gives the kids a chance to learn about high schools firsthand."

And if for many kids the jury is out as to which was the best story, 6-year-old Ashley Kelsey from Oak View Elementary School has made up her mind.

"I liked all of it," Ashley said. "But Happy Bug is the best."

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