I had an amazing experience at Bella Vista Elementary School in Cottonwood Heights yesterday. I spoke to an assembly of 5th and 6th grade students and then taught two mini-writing workshops, over an hour each. They were extremely great kids and so smart and imaginative. A special shout out to some of my new fans: Poul, Chase, Walker, Olivia and Julianna.
So, I was invited by the school’s literacy specialist, Mary Lou Damjanovich, a great lady who helps the students learn to love books. The kids need as many people like Mary Lou as we can get. She cares about those kids so much and I know that in her many years in education she’s helped so many children. I was put in touch with her by a friend of mine, Lois C., a nurse at the hospital. I really enjoyed meeting Lois’s son, a very intelligent and tall young man named Poul. He seems a little like me, except he's already taller than me and he's in 6th grade. He’s got a lot of potential and now he’s my buddy. I really appreciated his help during my visit.
The whole visit was fun, and I didn’t have any big time constraints. We could sit back and enjoy the process. I was able to spend over an hour with each group in the writing workshops.
During the workshops I was most struck by the quality of the kids ideas. Their brains were going a mile a minute and they came up with a lot of great stuff, though we couldn’t use all of them in our story. I hope they use the ideas in their personal stories later.
The first workshop (in Mrs. Raymond’s class) went really well.
We came up with a story about Sasha, a sixteen year old girl living in Tooele, with a Russian father and an American mother, who was pretty sure she was about to fail her driving test for the third time. She started driving and was immediately followed by a cop car, which turned on its lights wanting her to pull over. Her driving teacher turned out to be a bank robber on the run—pretending to be a driving instructor. He was an accomplice of Sasha’s father (also a bank robber), and wanted her to tell him where her father was hiding with the money they just stole.
Sasha was forced to drive 90 miles an hour as they fled the cops—in her new sports car—bought with stolen money. Sasha crashed and the cops crashed and then the foot race began as the bank robber chased after her, while the cops tried to recover from the accident.
Sasha was a special girl, with a special power. She could read minds and read the bank robber’s mind: he was going to kill her no matter what.
Poor Sasha fled into the hills in the middle of nowhere outside Tooele. She had been driving the bank robber toward the place where her father was hiding out. She did know where he was. However, during the accident, Sasha hit her head and lost her power to read minds. She also lost the memory of her father’s location.
Afraid, injured, and running for her life from a desperate bank robber, Sasha takes refuge in an old mine shaft. The robber finds her and ties her up. The cops do not find them. The robber interrogates her and things look grim. She can’t remember where her father is hiding.
Then Sasha gets loose when the cops come to the mine. The robber will be captured, but the cops fall through some rotten wooden planking, and the robber chases her deeper into the mine. Her little flashlight is dying and she is terrified. The robber catches her and then they see an exit to the mine. A man is standing there with a bag (full of money). It’s Sasha’s father. She is excited, for he will certainly free her. (He was hiding deep in the mine and thought the cops were coming.)
Sasha’s father aims a gun at his former accomplice. The robber aims a gun at Sasha’s head and says, “Give me the money or she’s dead.”
Sasha’s father says, “Fine. Kill her. I need the money, not her.”
Sasha is crushed emotionally. The robber hesitates, then Sasha gets her power to read minds back. She reads her dad’s mind. He’s bluffing. The robber takes the gun away from her head and Sasha knows her dad is about to shoot. She dives away at the right moment, when her dad fires and kills the robber with an expert shot.
Sasha and her dad get in the slightly damaged, but functional, abandoned cop car parked some distance away, and drive off with the money.
Last line supplied by a very smart girl in the class: That was the day I got my drivers license.
The second story in Mrs. Cope’s class was really challenging, but quite good and involved an orphan girl (her tourist parents killed by bandits) with lighter skin, adopted by a desert tribe in Morocco, who found out who she really was at her coming of age ceremony—an outsider who would never quite fit in. She has three small dots tattooed under her eyes and feels the pain. She also has a vision of the future, as she has the gift of foresight, and has had it all her life. She sees that if she stays there now, she will never be accepted and they might kill her for being a witch someday.
She decides to find her real parents and armed with her mother’s jade necklace and an ID card from when she was a baby with her real name—Jada—on it, she sets off to find her parents. She left behind her adopted parents and Akbar, a young man who loved her. She ended up in jail in a city with the prospect of disappearing permanently because of the corrupt police who had stolen her necklace and denied her claim, saying she was not the girl named on the ID card.
A crazed prisoner attacks the girl and she escapes, with the help of Akbar, who hits the prisoner over the head and helps her get back the necklace and the ID card. They run away and Akbar tells her he can’t live without her. She loves him too and then they flee. Akbar is hit by a car, apparently killed.
Jada has to run from the crazed prisoner, who is chasing her. He wants the necklace back and probably wants to kill her. He corners her in an alleyway and accuses her of stealing the necklace. She tells him it was her mother’s and the prisoner looks past the tattoos on her face, past the desert clothing, past the desert hairstyle, past three dots under each eye, and sees the face of his long lost daughter.
He has been searching for her for years, and finally the authorities threw him in jail because they wanted more money from him—bribes so they would help him find his daughter.
Jada sees her father, then has a vision of the future. If she goes back with him she will be ridiculed and will have a terrible life in a foreign country where she doesn't speak the language, or fit in at all. She will miss the desert and her true people. She will miss Akbar. The injured young man shows up then, or perhaps she goes to the hospital to find him, as she knows he is alive. Her vision tells her he is alive.
Jada gives the necklace and the ID card to her father and tells him she is not going back with him. She sees the future will be difficult, but with Akbar at her side, her place will be in the desert and the people will accept her, for she has chosen them over her real parents.
Wow, cool story, eh? Those kids are so smart. They’re having me back to do a bigger book signing, as more of the kids want books now that they’ve met me. I’m really looking forward to going back and seeing them. I also hope I get to read some of their stories.
Here's a salute to the great writers at Bella Vista Elementary School.
Author of The Dragon Hunters
Book Two of The Iron Dragon Series