Vail area children bloom as published authors |

Vail area children bloom as published authors

Sarah Mausolf
Vail CO, Colorado
HL Writers 01 TS 09-10-08

EDWARDS, Colorado ” Old enough to drive?


Old enough to vote?


Old enough to publish a book?


A class of Red Sandstone Elementary alumni can check “write a book” off their list of things to do before they turn 13.

The students will sign copies of their book, “Out of the Box and into Bloom,” Sunday at The Bookworm of Edwards.

“I think in a way I’ll feel famous, like a famous person, because you see all these people on TV and the news saying, ‘Oh look, this person’s having a book signing,'” 11-year-old Peter Smith said.

“Out of the Box” is a collection of student poems and stories that offers an intimate peek into the fifth-grade psyche.

Currently for sale at The Bookworm, the anthology combines the work of 24 students who were enrolled in Rhena Rizzo’s fifth-grade class at Red Sandstone Elementary in Vail during the 2007/’08 school year. The students have since moved on to sixth grade. Some of the writers are native Spanish speakers who overcame a language barrier to complete the project.

“Some of these kids did not know how to write a sentence in the beginning of the year, and at the end, they’re published authors,” said East Vail resident Cathleen Brooks Weiss, a parent who spearheaded the book project.

It all started with a monthly newspaper the students launched last September. Weiss, the editor of the paper, noticed how excited the students became when they saw their work in print.

“It seemed that the more they got that recognition, the more they wanted to write,” she said.

Seeing how passionate the kids were about writing gave Weiss an idea.

“I came in and said, ‘What would you think about writing a book?’ And they got very excited,” she recalled.

The book is full of upbeat topics like frogs and icicles, but children also bared their souls about sad times. Some wrote about divorce or the deaths of relatives, while one boy wrote about witnessing a robbery in a story titled “A Man with a Knife.”

Eleven-year-old Jimmy Castaneda wrote a poignant piece titled “The Knock on the Door” about a police visit to his family’s home in Denver. In the story, police bully Castaneda about his brother’s whereabouts: “Now tell the truth,” police threaten in the story, “Or your mom will go to jail, and they’ll take you away from your mom!”

Not only did the project help Castaneda overcome his fear of writing, he found a platform for his thoughts.

“I feel kinda happy because we can show other people what we think about life,” he said.

Weiss said writing about sad or scary experiences can be “incredibly cathartic” for children.

Kennedy Zwemke, 10, processed her grandmother’s death by writing about it in a story titled “A Great Loss.”

“It seemed like I remembered it much more when I actually had it written,” she said.

Stories in the book showed how creative children can be when their imaginations run wild. Eleven-year-old Rachel Weiss wrote about a puppy that opens a peace box. A writing prompt had asked the students: “How can you bring about peace in the world?”

“I thought, ‘Well, humans haven’t been so successful so far because there’s not world peace, so I thought, ‘What kind of thing doesn’t fight? What kind of thing doesn’t do what people do?’ And I thought, ‘Puppies,'” she said.

Weiss also wrote a story based on a drawing she doodled on a menu at Blue’s in Vail. Now an illustration in the book, the drawing shows a seal and her pup on a tropical island.

Students spent hours working on the book at home and at school, often giving up their lunches or recesses to write.

When they realized the book would actually be published, Weiss said the children responded with cries like “‘It’s really happening! We’re going to be famous!'”

“It’s the kids who never imagined they would be famous that this means the most to and that’s the self-esteem builder,” Weiss said.

Publishing the book cost $3,000. Funding came from Action for Children, a non-profit organization Weiss and her husband, Gary Weiss, launched. Proceeds from the book sales will flow to Action for Children, which has funded things like basketball camp for Battle Mountain High School students and Friends of the Dance.

Rizzo said the book is a hard-earned success that children will carry with them later in life.

“I’m hoping that when sixth grade gets really tough or seventh or eighth grade or high school, they say: You know what? I was really successful in fifth grade. I can be successful again,” she said.

Josue Sanchez, 12, said he’s excited about the book-signing.

“I think it’s going to be one of the best things that happened in my life,” he said.

High Life Writer Sarah Mausolf can be reached at 970-748-2938 or

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