Children’s book author Gail Hedrick gave fifth-graders at Rich Acres Elementary School writing tips Thursday but also life lessons such as the importance of caring, observing, having curiosity and persevering.
Hedrick, formerly of Collinsville, lives in Bradenton, Fla. A number of her articles have been published in magazines, and her first published book, “Something Stinks!,” was released April 28, according to her website.
It’s the fictional story of young Emily Sanders, who while visiting her Uncle Joe and Aunt Sylvie during the waning summer, gets a whiff of a fish kill in a Virginia river. Emily then goes on a hunt “to find out who killed the fish, her friendship and why life in the seventh grade is far from simple,” according to Hedrick’s website.
Hedrick began her talk to more than 40 fifth-graders by describing herself. She grew up in Lansing and Gun Lake, Mich., and became interested in writing when she was a girl because her family didn’t have a lot of money — so she wrote and made greeting cards to send to relatives. She also wrote family newsletters and stories. After graduating from college, she worked as a health and physical education teacher and a YMCA administrator; was a stay-at-home mom; and helped with her family’s furniture store.
She said she read lots of books to her children, began to take writing classes, and her instructor(s) suggested that she submit articles to magazines.
She discussed how she gets ideas for writing — and how students can get ideas, too. Curiosity — wondering, “What’s up with this?” — is important. But sometimes ideas just pop into her head, so she keeps sticky notes with her to jot them down, she said.
Once, at a dairy bar, one of her young sons was impatient for his brother to make a decision about what type of milk shake he wanted. So he said, “Pick your choose,” meaning, “Make a decision.” That gave her the idea for an article that later was published in Kiki magazine and titled “Pick Your Choose — Making a Choice at the Fork in the Road.”
“With subjects ranging from how-to’s, fitness, and etiquette to mysteries, she is read by kids and teens everywhere,” the goodreads.com website says of Hedrick.
Hedrick told Rich Acres students being observant and curious at school will help give them writing ideas. For instance, someone brings a big bouquet of flowers to school. For whom? What’s the occasion?
Hedrick came up with the story line for “Something Stinks!” because news stories made her curious “why there did not seem to be more of an uproar when there were thousands of fish dying in waterways all over the state (Virginia). There were probably many different causes, but it seemed no one was overly alarmed and wanted to get to the bottom of it,” the website states.
Hedrick said she’s good at dialogue, but writing descriptions is more difficult for her but important. At one point, she got advice from an acquaintance of hers who works at a textile company about what could cause a fish kill. She later also got help on the science from scientists at her publisher.
She had several students read aloud rejection letters she received between early 2010 and early 2011 from publishers to whom she had sent her 123-page manuscript. After that, she rewrote the book from a third-person account of Emily’s story to a first-person account. She later received another rejection letter, which a student read aloud. In February 2012, publisher Tumblehome Learning gave her a maybe. “Your submission looks like something we might be interested in,” a student read aloud.
Hedrick showed the students the manuscript that was returned to her from Tumblehome with “red marks, stickies, all kinds of scribbling on it, suggestions,” she said. In the following months, she rewrote the book several times.
She told the students about the importance of “nuts and bolts” (correcting spelling mistakes and typographical errors); order (middle, beginning and end); helping characters grow; having the science and setting details right; and getting to the point. Ten months after receiving her maybe letter, the publisher notified her, “We have a book.”
Her tips to the students included: “The more you read, the better writer you’ll be someday”; “every time you write something, you learn something”; revising means “correcting and improving”; “don’t ever think research is a waste of time;” seek honest opinions of your work; stick to it; don’t quit.
“Writing is hard work. You have to practice. It’s like throwing a baseball,” she said.
Many students’ hands shot up when it came time to ask questions. Among the questions were, “How did you feel when you were writing it?” Answer: “I wasn’t sure it was going to be good enough”; and How much money was she paid for writing “Something Stinks!”? Answer: She received an “advance” of hundreds of dollars (famous authors receive thousands, she said) and she will receive some payment when the book sells. Students also asked questions about various aspects of the book, the characters and the writing process.
After the program, 11-year-old Brooke Bailey said she learned, “When you write a book, you’ve got to stick with it.”
Dekavis Preston, 11, agreed that “Don’t quit” was a takeaway. He planned to share the writing tips with his sister, Nala, who is in the third grade.
Nour Bensadik, who will turn 11 on Oct. 28, said she aspires to become a children’s book writer. She said she learned from Hedrick’s talk, “If people tell you can’t do it, you can.”
Principal Beth Hussey said of Hedrick’s talk: “It gives students the real-life experience of meeting an author of a book that is perfect to promote cross-curricular instruction.”
Fifth-grade teacher JoAnna Griffith said reading, writing and science were all tied in. For instance, students will be testing pH levels of water in the classroom fish tank for the Trout in the Classroom program.
Hedrick was scheduled to speak to students at Stanleytown Elementary on Friday.