When a grandchild does something at a young age, something that took yourself far more years to figure out, you just have to start envisioning a future filled with grandeur for that grandchild.
My buddy, Kaylee Brooke, who is also my 8-year-old grandchild, has had reading and writing injected into her veins long before she attended her first day of school. That’s because her MaMa spent hours upon hours reading to her and her Poppy — that’s me — is a writer who involved her with written projects as soon as she learned to hold a pencil.
Still, the interest and adeptness Kaylee has shown toward reading and writing at such a young age simply amazes me. It’s something I didn’t acquire until well into my high-school years, and didn’t bother to embrace until several years later.
For those who have followed this space on Fridays, you know the story of my first-ever published children’s book, “The Luckiest Leaf.” The fact of the matter is, I may have written it, but it would never have been written OR published had it not been for Kaylee.
Not only is the book laced with the imagination of then 6-year-old Kaylee, but she and her first-grade classmates served as the story’s focus group long before it was sent for publishing. And even then, it took numerous “When will it be a book, Poppy?” from Kaylee before it was sent off to become a book.
When it did, and I held the first copy of “The Luckiest Leaf” in my hands, there was a feeling above and beyond the usual euphoria associated with the birth of something new. Aside from my own sense of accomplishment, there was something that clicked inside Kaylee when the book became a reality.
She began writing her own stories.
A short commercial: On Saturday, I’ll be at the annual Book ‘Em North Carolina Writers Conference & Book Fair event at Robeson Community College, along with more than 75 other authors. I’d encourage you to stop by — it’s an all-day event, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and free — talk with the authors and check out the numerous activities. One of those activities will be a reading of “The Luckiest Leaf” at 10 a.m. in the children’s area by yours truly. And each of the authors will have books for sale.
Now, back to Kaylee.
Since she showed an interest in writing herself, mostly consisting of short stuff that was almost more like long ideas than anything, I suggested that we team up again for a fun little writing project. That began a never-ending effort to put together a story full of twists, silliness and imagination. Each time Kaylee visited, we would take turns writing a paragraph for a story that centered around a barnyard of animal pals.
Let me assure you, this story will never see the light of day outside of Kaylee and my eyes. But it’s been both fun and interesting — starring a pink pig who flies using balloons and puts on lipstick. We do a lot of giggling with almost every page we write, and the story just goes on and on.
To reinforce her interest in the written word, Kaylee has become quite serious about reading. The first time she took on a “chapter book,” I thought she would burst with pride. And now, she has been a member of her school’s Battle of the Books team the past two years.
Although I can remember the first book I really took to (“Dorp Dead”), I can honestly say reading was far down my list of things to enjoy doing as a youngster — somewhere after pulling weeds out of the garden.
But Kaylee is a reading machine. And she doesn’t just read, she does something more that is perhaps the most important thing of all: she absorbs the words. When she sees a word she doesn’t yet know, she won’t just pass over it. She asks what it means.
And now, this week, Kaylee brought to the house her most recent story. Keep in mind, this wasn’t a school assignment. She was doing it just because she wanted to.
In some ways the story, which is titled “You Are What You Eat,” could easily fit as a sequel to the Hidden Valley Ranch dressing commercials. Featuring a girl named India, the story centers around her love of vegetables — so much so that she grows broccoli hair, uses a carrot toothbrush and sleeps in a bed with cucumber covers.
India eventually ventures out into the world of burgers and pizza, but quickly realizes that life is better surrounded by her vegetables.
The story is cute, imaginative and already shows some incredible flow coming from the mind of an 8-year-old. And I’m not just saying that because Kaylee is my granddaughter — but this I AM saying because she is my granddaughter: With a little mentoring on her Poppy’s part and continued interest in reading/writing on her part, I’m envisioning my buddy being the next Sue Monk Kidd, J.K. Rowling or Virginia Woolf.
— W. Curt Vincent is the general manager and editor of the Bladen Journal. He can be reached by calling 910-862-4163 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.