Quest Academy eighth-graders publish book with local author's help
Earlier this month, author Cynthea Liu appeared at Quest Academy in Palatine for a book signing, but she wasn't the writer of this book. Turns out, the eighth-grade students were the authors, having become published authors with Liu's help.
Their book, "I Took The Dare: One Book. One Social Experiment," came out in October and is available on Amazon. It is described as an anthology of personal narratives, giving readers a glimpse into the lives of middle school students as they struggle with issues like sibling rivalry, self-esteem, bullying, friendship and health issues.
Yet, the young authors said during an interview last week, what they remember most was the writing process.
"I have a whole new respect for J.K. Rowling and what it must have taken to write the Harry Potter books," said Anthony Kholoshenko of Buffalo Grove.
His classmate, Alex Tsvetkov, of Buffalo Grove, agreed, adding that the rounds and rounds of edits were "grueling."
It all started more than two years ago, when their teacher, Drew Shilhanek, met Liu at a breakfast with children's authors hosted by Anderson's Bookshop in Naperville. Now in his 17th year at Quest, Shilhanek regularly looks for ways to engage his language arts students with published authors.
"Quest Academy is an independent, gifted school," Shilhanek says. "We have avid readers and writers, so I'm always looking for ways to put new books in their hands."
Liu is a children's author with Disney, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster, and among her award-winning books is "Paris Pan Takes the Dare."
She first developed this idea of a spinoff with another school of involving real students in a one-week dare to improve something about themselves. Shilhanek eagerly volunteered his students to write a second edition.
As part of the experiment, students were to journal their thoughts during the week and ultimately write a 750-word essay about their growth as a result of taking the dare.
"To do the challenge, students had to dig deep to figure out how to communicate their experiences about personally meaningful topics with clarity and confidence," Liu said. "I was impressed by the richness of their essays and their willingness to share their world with others."
In talking to the students, they had no problem writing 750 words about their dare, which ranged from not eating sweets, to treating siblings nicely and exercising every day. In fact, many wrote more than the suggested word count and they needed to trim it to make it work.
Liu herself met with the students two years ago before they undertook their dares. She discussed the writing process and gave them some writing prompts. Once they took their dares and set out to write their essays, it led to two rounds of revisions with Liu before they were ultimately submitted to a professional copy editor.
"I was told to cut it down," said Kenney Kirkland of Vernon Hills, who dared herself to speak up more. "They told me one section wasn't productive, so I had to take it out and focus more on what the real topic was. It was hard."
Another student, Aaron Howe of Hoffman Estates, was asked to make changes with some of his word choices during the editing process, while Aviral Mehrotra of Arlington Heights and Amy Fei of Long Grove were challenged to add more details.
"Two years later and permission slips filled out, Quest Academy now has a number of current and former students who are now published," Shilhanek says of the 26 students who took part.
Each of these writers has four pages in the anthology, and they eagerly posed for photos during the book signing celebration.
"It's all super amazing," said Blake Donalson of Palatine, "that now we're published and we have this book."
Liu says the impact of the experiment goes further than that.
"They have become inspirations for others," Liu says. "I hope through this effort of speaking their truths in writing, that these newly anointed authors will recognize one of the most important things they possess is the power of their own voices."