When a fellow teacher passed along a story written by Annalysia Gonzalez to Tara Shuman in the faculty lounge, Ms. Shuman was caught completely off guard. She had never met the girl, who goes by Isa, before. Isa is a sixth grader at Boston Prep, and Ms. Shuman teaches eleventh and twelfth grade English. However, the story, "The Powerfuls," gripped her. It was insightful, highly metaphoric with multiple layers of symbolism, making it not only accessible but deeply meaningful to a 10-year-old and an 80-year-old all at the same time. She knew instantly that she needed to meet young Isa.
Ms. Shuman approached Isa and was further blown away. Isa shared that she is an avid reader and writer, with a goal of being a published author by the age of fourteen. Instantly, a connection was built. Ms. Shuman, just a few years earlier, following a battle with breast cancer, poured her thoughts and reflections into writing, which she then went on to self-publish as a memoir, Hope Is a Good Breakfast. Without hesitating for a second, Ms. Shuman offered to share her knowledge and experience to help Isa realize her goal of publishing her work. "Here was this incredibly gifted young woman whose life goal met up with my own. I know what it's like to hold a book you wrote when you love books. This is why I teach. This is what it's about."
Ms. Shuman and Isa began meeting weekly during one of Isa's study hall periods to work on her book. They first began with lay-out, determining exactly what would fall on each page, and choosing page color, font, size, and more. As a novella, Isa decided her text could be enhanced by some illustrations. Her sister, Gavi, a talented artist offered to help, but Isa wanted to engage a second illustrator as well. She held a schoolwide competition, selecting ninth grader Reuben Fatal to join her team. Now, while the illustrating team is creating their images, Ms. Shuman and Isa are carefully copy editing, with Isa requiring less and less guidance as she learns the process. Isa is enjoying every moment. "Ms. Shuman is helping me edit what I wrote for this book, line by line. It's really fun. It’s natural for me to write. But it's really fun to actually put it all into a book that can be read by other kids.”
In addition to the growth in Isa, Ms. Shuman is particularly excited to see the way other students are being inspired to write. Now, when she walks into the 6th grade homeroom, students jump out of their seats to ask, "Can you read what I wrote?"
Ms. Shuman and Isa share a goal of self-publishing her book by the end of the school year, with hopes of holding a book launch party in June. They remain confident that they are on track, meeting their deadlines.
Isa's teachers, while impressed, are not surprised with Isa's dedication to the editing and revision process she's undertaken. Her English language arts teacher, Danielle Smogard, shares that Isa's love for books is all-encompassing. "She is constantly asking me what I'm reading and writing. She'll ask me questions about how the plot has developed, what growth has been revealed in the characters. She is endlessly creative and pushes me to be a stronger writer the same way she pushes herself."
Asked where her inspiration to publish a book came from, Isa shares, “There’s an author, Gordon Korman, who published his first book at 14, and I really like his stuff. I want to publish a book before that age, publish more books, and maybe become a teacher.” She has also stated that she wants to be an architect and perhaps design and operate a bookstore one day. Ms. Smogard has already offered to go work at Isa's bookstore when it becomes a reality. While we would love to keep Ms. Smogard at Boston Prep forever, even we must admit that that would be a pretty cool way for her to move on.
Read an except from The Powerfuls below, and stay tuned for future announcements about Isa's publication and book launch party.