As 40 young writers prepared for their first book readings, their parents, siblings and other family filled the seats in the Albany County Public Library’s meeting room Friday.
The authors, all first-graders at Beitel Elementary, approached each member of their audience. Dressed in their fanciest clothes, the authors shook each listener’s hand and thanked them for their attendance.
Some more nervous than others, the authors began to read their informational books about animals.
This was the culmination of three months of work.
At the beginning of November, each student picked an animal, then examined that creature’s most important aspects — their habitat, diet, social structures, and other unique features.
Based on that, they worked on some basic informational writing skills: creating a topic sentence, adding a supporting details, and finally, a conclusion.
For many of these students, the process was an opportunity to learn even more about their favorite animals.
An aspiring “porcupine scientist,” first-grader Nathan Curry was excited to learn his favor animal is “cousins” with other rodents like mice and hamsters.
Paige Teini decided to write about “cute and cuddly” pigs, and learned that the animal is generally considered to be as smart as a 3-year-old child.
“I was surprised to learn that they wear glasses and know that E=mc2,” she said jokingly as she gestured to an illustration of just such an image she included in her book to indicate a pig’s intelligence.
Claire McGee always liked that zebras have stripes, but it wasn’t until this project that she learned about the recent research indicating a zebra’s stripes help control its body temperature.
Once the books were researched, written and revised, they’d be sent off to the book editors — first-grade teachers Lisa Johnson and Mick Oyler.
Johnson said meticulous revision was a major part of the project. She and Oyler helped teach the students how to use “their own words” when writing, rather than copying the research materials they studied.
After the editing process, the students met with their publishers — also Johnson and Oyler — and used the internet to find pictures to accompany their books.
Finally, Johnson and Oyler typed up the students’ work and had them printed onto sticky sheets that were pasted into blank hardcover books.
“It really looks like they were printed right into the book,” Johnson said.
Ahead of their book readings at the library, Oyler and Johnson stressed professionalism and social skills with the students.
The students were well-prepared. They thanked their guests before and after the reading, and all were sure to take questions from the audience.
The process filled the students with pride.
“They’re in first grade, but they feel like they’re older — like they have a job,” Johnson said. “They feel like they’re doing something that older kids would do.”
The focus on informational writing for Laramie grade-schoolers increased after the adopting of the “Wit & Wisdom” curriculum in English classes, which emphasizes the type of research Beitel’s first-graders used for their books.
Johnson said the curriculum is helpful to prepare students for the type of real-world writing they’ll do as they get older.
That vast majority of that writing, she said, will be informational, and it’s important to instill children with the basics as early as possible.
“If we’re not introducing this to them at this age, and planting seeds, it’s a lot harder in the long run,” she said.
This is the third year Beitel’s had “author celebrations,” and this is the second year that those events have been held at the library, where the first-graders’ new books will be available for community members to read this month.
Johnson said the ability of Beitel’s first-graders to teach the Laramie community about animals is particularly special for the students.
“It’s so important to show them that they can make a difference in their community, even when they’re 6,” she said.
Monica Owens, the library’s youth services librarian, said the students’ books were a popular addition to the library in 2018.
Patrons often would grab one of the books on display, sit down, and learn from the writers decades their junior. She hopes this year’s collection brings similar interest.
“It’s so great for the community to see what’s happening in our schools,” she said.
The books will likely be on display until the end of February, when the authors will take home their published works.