Young students produce an eclectic literary magazine


Rachel and Andrew Shearin, both in Methow Elementary’s home-school program, wrote poems about goats, the smell of nature, and the thrill of being high in the mountains for Our Words. Photo by Marcy Stamper

Rachel and Andrew Shearin, both in Methow Elementary’s home-school program, wrote poems about goats, the smell of nature, and the thrill of being high in the mountains for Our Words. Photo by Marcy Stamper

By Marcy Stamper 

Some of the Methow Valley’s youngest writers share their reflections on the shapes of mountains; others expound on topics as varied as porcupines, rhinoceroses, and the things that make them scream. Their writings are collected in a new literary magazine called Our Words, published by Methow Valley Elementary School.

Organized and assembled by Tirzah Quigley, the district’s home- school coordinator, the first edition contains the original writings of 150 students on 52 pages. Our Words, which came out in February, resumes a vibrant tradition of district publications featuring students’ original writing and art in the district. Its predecessor, called Imprints, was published from 1985 through 1988 and then again from 1996 through 1998.

For the youngest contributors, this was not only the first chance to see their words in print, but often some of their very first written words, since the material was assembled in December, said Quigley. “It’s quite an accomplishment — some kindergarteners are just learning,” she said.

Many of the entries from kindergarteners are brief, pithy reflections that give older folks a lot to think about. “The ninjas are doing spinjitsu. The snakes are going to flee,” wrote kindergartener Odin Noe. “There are airplanes flying to Peru!” was Emmet Bondi’s contribution. “The horse met the rainbow. Then the horse met the owl,” wrote Kaydence Camren.


Privileged glimpse

The anthology gives readers of all ages insights into the imaginations and perspective of young minds—a privileged glimpse into how they interpret the world. And it gives children a chance to express themselves in the way that suits them, with no set formulas.

First-grader Alea Colin addressed her piece to a pumpkin. “I hope you like your face and you aren’t too hot with the candle on Halloween.” Third-grader Gage Wilson provided a recipe for ham rolls and plans to provide instructions for another snack for the next edition.

“I wrote ‘Wake-up’ because it’s kind of weird and it sounded so funny,” said first-grader Jacob Sheehan about his poem which urges each member of his family to get out of bed.

“They’re so uninhibited when they’re little—we have to find a way to keep that spontaneity,” said Anne Andersen, the district’s instructional coach, who has worked with teachers and parents on the Young Writers’ Conference and helped organize the school’s publishing center.

For first-grader Layla Buzzard, the opportunity to express herself was meaningful. “I wrote about my first horse ride,” she said. “It felt really good because I wanted people to know that I wasn’t shy about writing. I wanted other people to know what I really liked.”

The students found innovative ways to convey their ideas. First-grader Izabel Bajema separated every word in her poem about hiccups with a dash, mimicking the interruptions. “I-like-hiccups-I-hate-hiccups-there-are-hiccups-in-my-hair…,” it begins.

Older students, such as Cathy Oliver’s third-graders, edited and revised their work before submitting it. “I really like writing, using interesting and descriptive words,” said Lucinda Tobiska-Doran, who contributed “In the Methow,” a poem that takes readers through each month. “In February, the black-spotted snowy owl sticks out its claws fiercely after a mouse at night,” she wrote.

“The idea was that if kids have venues for writing, it becomes more real to them because they get to have an audience,” said Andersen. “We hope to make the anthology as much a tradition of literacy in the school as the writers’ conference and writers’ celebration.”


Writing process

Most of the classes followed a writing-workshop model, where they study language and rhythm. Then they write, edit, revise and perfect their own work before they submit it, said Quigley.

That process was evident in the work of older students. “The happy red Santa cries loudly and slowly in the chimney when he gets soot in his eyes,” wrote fourth-grader Rian Darwood in his poem “Winter.” “Super evil snowmen lie hauntingly and frighten together,” wrote fourth-grader Zeke Grubb. Inspired by an earlier art project, third-grader Graham Sheley wrote a funny poem about a “pointy picky pokey porcupine.”

Some of Amanda Armbrust’s first- graders chose their “wish poems” for the magazine. Armbrust’s class also studied writings about animals by other first-graders, and many were particularly moved by a story about the death of a pet and wrote about their own loss of a dog, cat or chicken.

Fourth-grader Emma Shearin, in the REACH program for home-schoolers, said it was exciting to see her work in print, although this is not the first time she has had the honor—she has already written a book about bears. “I want to be a writer, and maybe an artist,” said Emma’s brother Peter. Their brother Andrew wrote about discovering geometric shapes in mountains.

Teacher Linda Reese keeps a complete collection of Imprints to use in her classes. “Kids love to go through these—some of these kids can find their parents in here, or their teachers,” she said.


The next edition

Quigley said kids were excited to get the magazine and, after reading their own pieces, looked for poems and stories by their friends. She plans to include artwork and — she hopes —  some color, in the next edition. She received a $300 grant for printing ink and paper from the North Central Educational Service District Educational Foundation. “It will take every cent of the grant,” she said. The school got a grant from the foundation a few years ago for other publishing center supplies.

Each student received a personal copy of Our Words, which is also available at the elementary school library. “It’s a unique, valuable thing for the kids to look back when they graduate from high school and to see work they did in the first grade,” said Quigley.

The next edition will be twice the size to include writing by all 321 students in the school, and may involve older students as editors and for the layout, said Andersen. The second edition will coincide with the Young Writers’ Conference in June.