When Make-A-Wish volunteers met with Ravina Thakkar in March 2010 to see if they could make her dream come true, the 10-year-old girl shocked them. "We're like 'Whoa,'" remembers Cindy Kepner, a suburban volunteer for the charity that grants wishes for children diagnosed with life-threatening illnesses. Kepner's wish-granter partner Patti Bernhard heard Ravina's wish and remembers thinking, "There's not a chapter in the manual for that one."
The little girl with big brown eyes, a quick smile and cystic fibrosis, didn't request a chance to swim with dolphins. Ravina didn't clamor for a VIP pass to a Justin Bieber concert. She didn't even ask for a dream vacation in Disney World.
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"I want," Ravina told them, "to be a published author."
She already had the novel in mind.
"She started it when she was 8 years old. When I started working with her, she already had ideas on paper," says Denise Goshert, a teacher who worked with gifted students when Ravina was a student at Freedom Elementary School in Plainfield. "Her stories were just amazing, even in third grade."
This has been quite the dream-come-true week for Ravina. On Tuesday, independent publisher Sourcebooks of Naperville published Ravina's novel, "The Adventure of a Lifetime," and Plainfield Mayor Mike Collins responded by declaring it "Ravina Thakkar Day" in the village. On Wednesday, her 14th birthday, Ravina was invited back to her grade school, where she read a chapter of her book as part of the school's "Family Literacy Night."
Today, Anderson's Bookshop is hosting Ravina's first book signing at 1 p.m. at the flagship store, 123 W. Jefferson Ave. in Naperville. The 128-page paperback sells for $6.99.
"My mouth is so dry," Ravina says after reading one chapter of her book to more than two dozen kids, parents and teachers at her old school. Cystic fibrosis is an inherited chronic disease that clogs the lungs with a sticky mucus, which attacks the lungs and the pancreas, making it difficult to breathe and preventing enzymes from absorbing food.
"I have a terminal illness, of course," Ravina says matter-of-factly in explaining how she hooked up with Make-A-Wish.
In the 1950s, children with cystic fibrosis rarely lived long enough to attend grade school. Now, many patients are expected to live into their 30s or 40s, according to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.
Ravina says cystic fibrosis helped hone her literature skills. As the only child of Bhavesh and Krishna Thakkar, Ravina read books to pass the time during the three 90-minute treatments for her lungs each day.
"I remember being really excited going to the library every week. But then my mom started taking me down there every two weeks, so I just got more books," the girl says. "I'm pretty stereotypical in a way. What I lack in sports, I make up in academics."
She is passionate about the books she reads.
"I will read them at the dinner table or walking down the street. It's really not safe, but if it's a really good book, I'll risk my life," Ravina says.
"She was reading before she got to kindergarten," says Krishna Thakkar, who lived in Schaumburg and Naperville before moving to Plainfield when Ravina was a baby. The mom started with at-home phonics lessons.
"I was that weird one who wanted to do them," Ravina says of the work normally reserved for school.
The child devoured books. She discovered J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter" series, and loved, loved, loved the Hermione Granger character.
"She's exactly like me. In grade school, I was a know-it-all," says Ravina, who notes that she, as did the Hermione character, matured in her teen years. Ravina's thirst for reading grew to include a passion for writing, and she won school and library writing awards.
"I have to say the kid just amazes me," says Todd Stocke, vice president and editorial director for Sourcebooks, who notes that Ravina met the challenges of meeting word counts and numerous revisions. "Ravina just chips it all out with a maturity well beyond her years. A writer doesn't have to write; a writer needs to write. Ravina's a writer."
Her novel revolves around Betty Hilmar, a 9-year-old girl who gets her thrills from reading "Amber the Brave" books. When a magical book transports Betty into the adventurous world of dragons and super villains alongside Amber, she discovers Amber turns out to be different from how she appears in books. The story hinges on the "clash of personalities" of Betty and Amber.
"It's more about that than the actual adventure," says Ravina, now an eighth-grader at Heritage Grove Middle School in Plainfield.
It took more than three years to find the right publisher and make all the revisions required to get a book into print. Ravina didn't want to self-publish.
"She had to do a lot of the work herself. It's not like someone handed it to her," says Kepner of Make-A-Wish.
"She wanted it to be worthy," wish-granter Bernhard says.
Ravina, who says her friends are "very excited" for her, has already signed a few autographs and is looking forward to today's book signing at Anderson's Bookshop. She'll work that in between lung treatments that include a nebulizer and a vibrating vest. It's been a while since she last needed to be hospitalized.
"She's had some issues but nothing major," her mom says.
Now that her life has all these new adventures, Ravina says she isn't sure where it might lead. She's been saving her writing since first grade.
"I still have that notebook, and I am embarrassed to look at it because it is so childish," Ravina says. "I'm writing stuff now, just not chapter books."
But she did leave herself open to a possible sequel to her first book. In the meantime, she says she is so thankful to all the people who helped her make good on her novel Make-A-Wish request to be a published author.
"Most people ask for Disney World," Ravina says. "I'm so glad I didn't ask for that."