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Tiny authors take delight in writing books

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Inside the front cover of Graham Melton's first book, which is just off the press, you'll find a heartfelt dedication: "To my library and my school," it says, "because they are teaching me how to read."

"Reading is something I've always wanted to do, especially the Harry Potter books," says Graham, who wrote "Graham's ABC Book" in two weeks. "My dad reads to me now, but pretty soon I'll be able to read Harry Potter all by myself. Then I'm going to write a bunch of books of my own so I can be an author if I don't become a basketball player."

Although he is only 6 years old, Graham has a head start on making the best-seller list, thanks to the Young Authors Fair at Salt Lake City's Ensign Elementary. The kindergartner is among more than 250 students who wrote and published their own books this year, covering everything from space aliens and skateboarding adventures to how to pick the perfect hamster.

Eager to show off their latest works and hoping to inspire other youngsters to turn off the television and put pencils to paper, Graham and several other students invited me to join them for a Free Lunch last week in the school cafeteria.

Over chicken nuggets, french fries, carrots and chocolate pudding, they shared the triumphs and tribulations of turning an idea into something that can now be displayed in the library, read at bedtime and personally autographed for family and friends.

This is the second year that Ensign students have written their own books. Jennifer Johnson — a freelance writer who is the mother of two boys at the school — proposed the idea after moving to Salt Lake City last year from Santa Cruz, Calif., where a similar young authors program was offered.

"Children have wonderful imaginations, and this is a great way to bring that out," she says. "Every child who writes a book feels an incredible pride of ownership. You see a big transformation in the kids, especially in those who have had no interest in writing. It's almost magical."

Previous titles from Ensign have included "Fifty Ways to Avoid School Lunch," "Skateboarding for Dummies," "The Dinosaur Olympics" and "Chinese Fortune Cookie" — the tale of a Chinese baby who is adopted and brought to the United States.

This year's crop is equally promising, with books on everything from a troll's misadventures to the tragic events of Sept. 11. Kyle Strayer, a fourth-grader, wrote four drafts of "The Magic Helmet," a tale about a boy who finds a helmet with supernatural powers, before turning it in to his teacher last week.

"I'd still like to do another draft," he says, "because it's not exactly how I want it. And when I'm finished, I'm going do a series. My goal is publish one book every year."

Did I mention that Kyle is 9?

Emilie Elkins is only 6, but she came up with a beautiful book on how to throw an ideal tea party. Geoffrey Bradway, 8, decided to focus on science fiction with "The Little Alien's Adventures," and Ryan Welch, also 8, wrote and illustrated a guide to snow, including Olympic snow, sledding snow and dog snow covered with patches of yellow.

Shareen Smith, 10, penned a clever primer for her brother called "ABCs for Everyday," while Hillary Whitt, 12, wrote not one but two books about her beloved cat, Chloe.

When I mention to the group that I am struggling to write a book of my own, Kyle looks at me with surprise.

"It's not hard — it's easy," he says, swigging the last of his chocolate milk.

"All you have to do is sit down at your kitchen table and write."

Have a story? Let's hear it over lunch. E-mail your name, phone number and what's on your mind to freelunch@desnews.com or send a fax to 801-466-2851. You can also write me at the Deseret News, P.O. Box 1257, Salt Lake City, UT 84110.