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Novel Idea for Inspiring Youths

We read a lot about the dumb among us. And the mean, the petty, the dangerous and the reckless. Particularly the dumb, mean, petty, dangerous and reckless youth among us.

We are buried in reports of kids in jail, kids in gangs, kids doing drugs and kids wreaking all manner of havoc.

When we in my business report on these junior reprobates, we lay the blame where it often belongs, at the feet of the senior reprobates who produced but failed to raise them. And we include some well-chosen words for all the others who forgot to protect, educate, direct or counsel these children.

So it was heartening to read about those smart kids on the Moorpark High Academic Decathlon team who became state champions by beating some other smart kids from the San Fernando Valley.

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The students on both teams acquitted themselves admirably--not just as scholars but as good sports. These are kids who work really hard--for the team and to earn top grades, so their parents probably know where they are and what they are doing most of the time.

Of course, we can’t be absolutely certain that the adults who packed the stands in team colors are all candidates for Parent of the Year. Maybe one was wearing special colors because he is on a work-release program. Another could be the subject of a future tell-all, “Mommy Dearest--Wire Hangers II.” But they certainly seemed to have done well raising their children.

The Academic Decathlon was a reminder to all of us --in the press and in the community--that we do a disservice to kids and their parents when we focus on slackers and creeps and fail to sufficiently acknowledge the more successful members in both generations.

It was fortuitous, then, that I received an e-mail from Ventura writer Catherine Dain, reminding me of the Camarillo PTA Council’s 11th annual “Day with an Author” program held by the Pleasant Valley School District. For 11 years, published authors have been invited to visit some or all of the district’s schools to speak to children at every grade level about writing and getting published. This year’s “Day with an Author” program will be Tuesday.

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Coordinator Mimi Timrott, second vice president for programs of the Camarillo PTA Council, said the daylong event was started in 1989 by Jean Stangl, through the Camarillo Friends of the Library. The PTA Council took it over in 1992.

“This year we will send 34 authors to 16 of the 17 schools,” she said. “So we are very pleased.”

Timrott isn’t overstating her case when she says that putting on such an event is a big job that requires a tremendous amount of organization.

To start with, Timrott sends 90 invitation letters to authors. On the day of the event, the authors are given breakfast by the PTA, then squired around by hosts and hostesses representing each school. Parent groups provide lunches and honorariums, the funds for which have been raised by individual schools.

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What the kids get is an opportunity to talk with a professional writer who encourages them to read and to express themselves, said Timrott. “Authors speak to the issue of how hard it is to write and to get published. It gives the kids a lot of things to think about.”

And how do the kids respond?

According to author Dain, the kids are alert, bright and full of questions.

“They always want to know how much money writers make and where we get our ideas,” said Dain. Her third Cat Crimes short story, “Cat, the Jury,” is being included in the forthcoming anthology “Cat Crimes Goes to Court,” (Carroll & Graf) to be published this summer.

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Dain is speaking to high school English classes for the third year in a row, in tandem with Camarillo mystery writer and LAPD Det. Paul Bishop. Whenever she asks if anyone wants to be a writer, at least one hand goes up.

“Of course, I encourage them,” she said. “There is a special place in hell for people who discourage young writers.”

There are always surprises when the authors meet their young public. One time, Dain was telling some eighth-graders about her work and said she had written a seven-volume coming-of-age series. “I asked the question, ‘Does anyone know what a coming-of-age novel is?’ ”

Without missing a beat, she said, one 13-year-old boy yelled out, “a Bildungsroman.”

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“I had heard this word myself in high school honors English, but I hadn’t heard it since,” she said. “Fortunately I have a good memory so I didn’t embarrass myself.”

I’m not sure I know what it means. I better ask a student at Moorpark High.

* OUT & ABOUT

Spring activities include “Singin’ in the Rain,” and for kids, plenty of egg hunts. B9

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