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The City Journals

Fourteen-year-old authors

Mar 13, 2018 04:35PM ● By Jet Burnham

English teacher Chase Raymond discusses strategies that will help his students get their stories published. (Chase Raymond/Hawthorn Academy)

Within the next few months, all of Chase Raymond’s eighth-grade English students will be published authors. 

Writing a book and getting it published is an assignment he has given them the whole school year to complete.

“The goal is to expose their work to others,” said Raymond, who teaches at Hawthorn Academy in West Jordan.

Raymond told the students they could write any genre of book. Most students chose to write fiction and fantasy because that is what they like to read. A few of his students have a children’s book in the works. Others are writing non-fiction, including a self-help book, a biography of Michael Jordan and a memoir about being a Native American in America. 

“I leave much of the project open,” he said. “Above all, I want it to be an expression of themselves and something they are passionate about. That said, I encourage them to apply the lessons we learn.”

Eighth-grade language arts curriculum teaches writing and grammar skills that are necessary to be an author.

“Writing a book fulfills a large portion of the standards they are required to learn as eighth-graders,” said Raymond. 

Students are not graded on their progress and, for the most part, do their writing at home. However, Raymond schedules regular editing sessions for students to receive feedback from their peers. 

Becca Wesley said the opportunity to read others’ stories has helped her improve her writing style. Exchanging stories with a friend made her realize she needed more description in her story, noting that’s what made her friend’s story so interesting.

“The hardest part of this assignment is I have an idea, and I write it down, but then it doesn’t sound as good as I thought it would be, so I have to change my writing,” said Becca. “Writers make it look easy, but it’s actually not.”

Becca already knows how her novel will end and is currently writing chapter 13 of the mystery story. She is not concerned about having enough time to finish it.

Haley Ashurst-McGee is writing a fantasy/mystery/adventure chapter book titled “Saving NYC in 3 Days” about magical twins who save the day. She has written 20 chapters so far and estimates it will be about 30 chapters when complete. She enjoys the assignment and has been writing short stories for years—though she hasn’t finished very many of them.

“This assignment has made me more motivated,” said Haley. She is looking forward to finishing her story and sharing it with others.

Fourteen might be a young age to write a book, but Raymond thinks the eighth-graders are at a good stage of development for such a project. He said during the middle school years, kids are at a vulnerable developmental stage.

“The students’ vision of themselves and who they want to be begins to shift, and there are few things as upsetting as losing one’s sense of self,” he said. “Writing a book helps the students evaluate character, explore situations and solidify personal philosophies in a far more measured and thoughtful process.”

Becca chose to write a fictional chapter book, although she is borrowing characteristics of her real-life friends to develop the characters. 

“It’s kind of like a story of my life, but half of it’s true and half of it’s not,” said Becca. Her story is about a girl who is rescued by her two friends after she is kidnapped by the villain, Scarlett. 

Raymond gave no specific due date except that books must be published some time by the end of the school year.  “I’m surprised and encouraged by how much many of the students are eager about the project without much prodding,” he said.

Students will choose a publishing platform such as Amazon, Wattpad, or even a blog or social media to share their work. They also have the option to send query letters to publishers.