Student Well-Being

Books by Students, With More on the Way

By Amy Wickner — February 01, 2013 5 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Enough advice from adults on how to be successful: Eighth-grader Marrae Kimball has just published her third book of survival tips for middle school students, drawing upon her own experience and input from friends.

Kimball, who attends Oxford Hills Middle School in Paris, Maine, has previously written books for her peers promising Guaranteed Success for Kindergarten: 50 Easy Things You Can Do Today! and Guaranteed Success for Grade School: 50 Easy Things You Can Do Today!. Kimball joins a host of other very young writers whose work is making it into print today thanks to avenues such as self-publishing, community partnerships, and national media organizations.

Kimball’s new book is titled The Secret Combination to Middle School: Real Advice from Real Kids, Ideas for Success, and Much More! and is distributed by Find Your Way Publishing, which is owned by Melissa Eshleman, Kimball’s mother. Find Your Way’s other offerings include Prank and Pray You Get Away!, a primer on practical jokes and sibling rivalry penned by William Eshleman and Paige Kimball, Marrae Kimball’s brother and sister.

Kimball explained her motivation for the new book in an interview with the Oxford Hills Sun Journal:

I know what it's like to start your first day in middle school, including the combination of excitement and nervousness," she said. "I want kids to know that this doesn't have to be a frightening time, but rather a chance to become more mature and make new friends that may last your entire lifetime."

The Kimball and Eshleman siblings aren’t the only kids seeing their writing between covers lately. Nikhil Goyal is a high school senior and the recently published author of One Size Does Not Fit All: A Student’s Assessment of School. A manifesto of sorts on infusing creativity into public education, his book has garnered national media attention. Goyal will appear this March as a distinguished speaker at SXSWedu 2013, the education arm of the annual South by Southwest festival.

Several nonprofit education programs produce printed and bound volumes of student work as milestones or culminating projects. 826, a literacy foundation established in San Francisco in 2002 that has since expanded to eight chapters nationwide, has published several compilations of student writing from each of its tutoring programs. The anthologies tend to focus on advice-giving and -receiving, whether the peer-to-peer advice featured in Be Honest: And Other Advice from Students Across the Country (The New Press, 2011), or student letters to President and Mrs. Obama, collected in Thanks and Have Fun Running the Country (McSweeney’s, 2009) and I Live Real Close to Where You Used to Live (McSweeney’s, 2010), respectively.

826DC, formerly the Capitol Letters Writing Center and now the Washington branch of 826, has released four collections of student writing through the 826 Young Authors’ Book Project and is currently at work on a fifth. 826DC operates a variety of creative writing programs for youth’s in the nation’s capital, including after-school tutoring, in-school mentoring, field trips, and weekend workshops with titles like “Brain Spelunking” and “Why’d the Chicken Cross the Lesson Plan?” Student writing for each book is gleaned from programs in Washington public schools.

In an announcement soliciting volunteers for the project, Program Coordinator Dillon Babington explained that the new book “will include all three genres (fiction, nonfiction, and poetry), and a CD of a student-made podcast discussing their poetry.” Students from each of three participating schools will contribute material to the book, working with volunteer in-school tutors and weekend editors from 826DC.

As with past titles in the series, the new volume will likely reflect students’ experiences of living and learning in the District. The Way We See It: Complete Coverage of the Nation’s Capital From the Inside Out (2009) collected work that “switched back and forth between essay, ode, even experimental cut-up poem” while remaining thematically consistent. Get Used to the Seats: A Complete Survival Guide for Freshmen (2010) was written by seniors at two local high schools. The most recent offering, Dear Brain (2012) is a collection of poetry. 826’s emphasis on student writing as personal, creative testimonial remains consistent throughout student publications from all chapters of the organization.

In Syracuse, N.Y., students participating in Say Yes to Education’s Young Authors Series collaborate with Syracuse University illustration majors on themed books that are ultimately printed, bound, and distributed to all participants, though not made available for sale. A press release timed to National Novel Writing Month estimated that 100 Syracuse public school students would participate over the current school year. Recently produced books include Has Anyone Seen Harry?, I Don’t Feel So Hot, and After-School Adventures. Research for the latter title involved a farm field trip, organized by the school district, for students to see sustainable urban farming in practice.

Say Yes to Education Syracuse aims to improve college- and career-readiness for Syracuse students, as Say Yes and district leaders explained in a November 2011 Education Week webinar. The college-school book collaboration is just one of several community partnerships through which Say Yes Syracuse aims to meet its goals.

And then there’s Things Don’t Have To Be Complicated: Illustrated Six-Word Memoirs by Students Making Sense of the World
(TED Books, 2012), an ebook compilation of evocative fragments and sentences assembled by Larry Smith, a founder of storytelling-focused media company SMITH and a fixture at TED and other conferences involving short, change-the-world talks. Several illustrated pages from the new book may be seen at the blog Brain Pickings. So far nine books have been published in the Six-Word Memoirs series, many of them garnering submissions through online contests. SMITH Teen, the company’s young-adult-focused suite of projects, is currently accepting submissions for a Valentine’s Day contest all about heartbreak.

While creative writing can range far afield regardless of age or experience, a great deal of published student work seems to emphasize personal essays, stories, or poems. It’s hard to say whether personal testimonials geared to an audience of peers resonate most with young writers, or whether it’s a genre of writing perceived as particularly beneficial, and therefore popular with teachers and other literacy advocates.

The experience of collaborating with mentors to produce and edit written work can be empowering as well. As writing teacher Greg Graham concludes in an Education Week Teacher essay this week, memoir-writing in particular can be a way for students and teachers to “address the ‘whole person’” in a way otherwise unattainable through curriculum or classroom instruction. Writing can be the most effective—and sometimes the only—means of self-expression, exploration, and communication available to some students. As options for publishing student-written books continue to expand there may be even more opportunities to recognize and encourage young authors on the way.

A version of this news article first appeared in the BookMarks blog.