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Program opens door to publish young authors

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They combed through books trying to find inspiration for their after-school project.

Their plan: To write a book.

Franklin Community Middle School students and community volunteer Beth Manzione wrote and illustrated “Andrew Evans, Dream Chaser,” during the school’s Blue Key program.

Blue Key groups meet after school Monday through Thursday. The federally funded program offers tutoring but also offers niche classes, such as nutrition and the theater. Book publishing was a niche class.

Six students and Manzione started the book in August, meeting twice a week at the school. At first they pored over picture books, nonfiction books and fiction books looking for ideas.

As a group they decided kids would be their target audience and that kids were most likely to look at a book at bedtime.

The book, following a toddler as he dreams, was born.

“It’s a way of encouraging kids to go to bed in a very sweet way,” Manzione said.

Students brainstormed how the story would be laid out. They decided a toddler’s dreams would grow out of what was in the child’s life. He escapes sea monsters and goes scuba diving. But everything is an exaggeration, such as a rubber duck that becomes an octopus in the dream.

Every student had a part in the creative process. For instance, Sydney Simmons served as illustrator.

“Everything about the book had to do with the kids,” Manzione said.

Manzione, who has children who attend Franklin schools, uploaded the color illustrations onto a free publishing website, and 50 copies of “Andrew Evans, Dream Chaser” were ordered and given to the students, school board members and Glenda Ritz, state superintendent of public instruction.

Along the way, students and their adviser got more out of the experience than a brightly colored book.

Manzione decided to teach the Blue Key class as a way to address issues in her own life.

She has a degree from Franklin College to teach middle school English but has worked as a freelance artist after she decided she didn’t want to teach.

After her family went through financial hardship when her husband lost his job, she volunteered at the school to find happiness.

“I needed more happy,” she said. “I needed to find things that made my life substantial that were unrelated to money.”

She added, “I got to guide the age group that I absolutely love and click with.”

She saw students collaborating, talking through questions and problems and deciding what they wanted to do.

Students got a way to pursue their passion and develop skills outside class.

Blue Key is a way for students to get another look at school, Sydney said.

“(Blue Key) actually gives you an opportunity to branch out,” she said. “A lot of time in class, they can’t do that, they have to focus on curriculum.”

The Blue Key book publishing allows students to have an actual piece of work filled with their ideas, she said.

“There are so many other children who want a tangible version of their ideas,” Sydney added.

The class likely will continue. Manzione said she would like to find ways to improve the class. Overall, she said, the book was incredible for a first effort.

“I wasn’t ready for the book to be so good,” she said.

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