Workshop gives young authors time to practice

Centre County children in grades one through six are invited to share their creativity with others in the community, as the Young Writers Workshop will again be held at the Schlow Centre Region Library in State College November 9.

The workshop acts as the lead-in event for the library’s 30th “Write and Illustrate Your Own Book Contest,” which gives young writers participating in the contest an opportunity to discuss their progress with an adult expert. The contest is sponsored by the Children’s Department and funded by The Friends of Schlow Library.

The workshop will be held in the Children’s Activity Room at Schlow from 10 a.m. – 11 a.m. Participants can bring their book for a brief personal evaluation starting at 11 a.m. This will give children an opportunity to improve their writing skills and to discuss mistakes to avoid.

The Young Writers Workshop is conducted each semester, generally in November and February. The second workshop has a larger attendance, since many children decide to begin writing a couple of months before the deadline in March. Last spring there were 25 kids in the February workshop and approximately 10 shared stories they were writing.

For this contest, children are given the freedom to write about anything that interests them. Last year’s entries included stories about everything from sharks and animal stories, to science fiction adventures and poetry.

Children’s librarian Anita Ditz said she started the program to give kids a reason to write.

“Providing a reason to write was the primary purpose for the contest,” she said. “The workshop was added to answer questions about how the judges evaluated the stories.”

While teaching in the State College Area School District, former teacher Diane Oyler would have her students write a book as part of her class curriculum. When she retired she acted as a judge for many years and offered to host a writing workshop for children. She would share writing tips and then would look at "works in progress" and make suggestions for improvement. The workshop is currently hosted by Anne Burgevin.

Ditz says the contest is an opportunity for the children to write creatively, and that the process of writing a story gives children practice in communicating with others and sharing ideas.

“I tell them that everyone who submits a story is an author and they feel pride in their achievement,”she said. “I also mention that giving grandparents a copy of the book as a present will be the best gift they could share.”

Each entry in the contest must have a title page which includes the name, grade, and school of the author and/or illustrator. The book should also include the parents’ names, mailing address, and telephone number on a separate sheet of paper. Each child may submit only one entry, although two children may submit one entry together, with one child as the writer and the other as the illustrator. Complete contest rules can be found on the Schlow Library’s website.

The judges spend ample time deciding upon which books will be added to the Schlow Library collection. Typically, these decisions are not quite that simple because each book shares the participant’s unique ideas.

The contest aims not only to get children interested in writing, but maybe one day produce future professional authors and illustrators. Sara Shepard, author of “Pretty Little Liars” and “The Lying Game,” both of which have been turned into television shows on ABC Family, was an "honorable mention" in the contest, and Doug Sweetland is now an animator for Pixar, having worked on several films, including “Toy Story,” “Toy Story 2,” “Monsters, Inc.,” “Finding Nemo” and “Cars.”

Children may submit their entries between January 6 and March 18, 2014. A panel of judges will select the winners based on creativity, grammar, spelling, punctuation, sentence structure, neatness, and attention to guidelines. Participants will be divided into four groups: Grades 1 & 2, Grades 3 & 4, Grades 5 & 6, and Past Winners. Winners will be selected in all four categories. All participants will receive a certificate, and the winners will be honored at a special ceremony April 24. The winning books will be bound and will become a permanent part of the Children’s Department collection. All winners will be notified by letter in April.

In Ditz’s mind, the Children's Department of Schlow is truly owned by the children who visit the library.

“I want them to enjoy reading and writing and be excited about learning,” she said. “This contest is just one of the ways that the staff encourages children to grow and learn. I want all children who participate to feel a sense of accomplishment and seeing books written by other area children proves that they too can be writers and illustrators.”