Chattanooga's newest authors are young. Really young.
Twenty local first- through fifth-graders gathered at the Boys & Girls Club's Highland Park Unit on Nov. 15 to show off their newly published books at the club's first Meet the Author event.
The authors, ages 6-10, read sections of their books to an audience of about 50 parents, board members and supporters, and signed autographs for the adoring fans.
"I was so excited because this is a big accomplishment for a 7-year-old," said proud mother Andreana Moore.
The children crafted their books as part of the Boys & Girls Club's educational summer learning loss prevention program, which included creative writing program WRiTE BRAiN Books in addition to a music and science component this year.
Each child was given a blank, illustrated book and challenged to write a story to bring the pictures to life.
"It was fun," said 10-year-old Tamara, author of "The Search for the Medallion." But writing her story about a boy and turtle's misadventures in pursuit of mythical treasure was far from easy. "It was exhausting," she said.
For eight weeks, the kids worked on perfecting their stories, developing important skills like self-expression, reading comprehension, and correct sentence structure in the process. Over time, they started learning to edit their own grammar, and soon, simple descriptions like "big whale" transformed into more powerful imagery like "really gigantic whale" or "big fish that looked like a whale," with colors and shapes included.
"You saw the differences between when they first started in this program and were kind of vague, to when you saw the finished product," said Boys and Girls Club Executive Vice President Debbie Gray. "Their creativity [increased], they would use more descriptive language and even their adjectives and their adverbs were vastly different from when they started."
At the end of the program, all the stories were sent back to WRiTE BRAiN Books, where they were professionally published. Though the writing was hard work, the young authors agreed that their hard-cover copies were worth the weeks of effort.
"You get to read it!" said 7-year-old Desiree, author of "The King and His Men," beaming at her mom.
The kids were not the only ones proud of their accomplishment. Family members packed the club, with grandparents, aunts and uncles eager to photograph and congratulate the young writers.
"We don't usually have such a turnout of parents," Gray said. "So the parents are very proud of their kids — and they should be."
Mom Latrice McCane agreed.
"I am excited and proud of my daughter," said McCane. "I knew she was writing [the book], but I didn't know that it was going to be actually published."
The parental support coupled with the pride from publishing a book has more than elevated the kids' self-esteem, Gray said. With this year's program being such a great success, she hopes to do it again next year for 40 kids instead of 20.
"It's an excellent program," Gray said, "and I can see a lot of potential in the future for this."