By Monique Harrison

Daily Journal

OXFORD – It’s not unusual for Oxford Elementary students to have their essays, poems and books returned to them, with teachers calling for corrections in grammar or content.

But Stella Pevsner, author of “A Smart Kid Like You,” which was made into an ABC After School Special, said students shouldn’t be upset by instructions to revise.

“Everyone has an editor,” the author of 16 children’s books told Oxford Elementary students gathered Thursday to hear her speak as part of the annual Young Authors Fair, which is designed to encourage fifth-graders to read and write. “John Grisham rewrote the first chapter of one of his books 47 times. Rewriting is fun because you are closer to your goal. Getting the first draft down is the tough part because you have so many details to hammer out in your mind.”

Pevsner spoke to fifth-grade students in both Oxford City Schools and Lafayette County Schools. The event served as a kickoff for the Fourth Annual Oxford Conference for the Book, which begins today and continues through Sunday at the University of Mississippi. The event features several authors, who will be leading writing workshops.

Teachers said the Young Authors Fair is an important educational experience for fifth-graders in both the city and county school districts.

“It’s very good for children to be exposed to people who actually write professionally,” said fifth-grade teacher Tim Lee, who teaches at Oxford Elementary. “It shows there are things out there besides being a butcher, a baker or a candlestick maker. Children need this kind of exposure.”

Lee said that exposure is commonplace to Oxford children because of the town’s rich literary heritage. The university town has been home to a number of nationally recognized authors, including William Faulkner, Larry Brown, John Grisham and Barry Hannah.

“This isn’t really an unusual experience for many of these students, but it’s important because it’s one more reminder of this area’s legacy,” he said. “And that’s important for any student in this area.”

Pevsner cautioned youngsters about writing overly upbeat stories, with few problems.

“No one wants to read a story where everything is going well and there are no conflicts, because that’s not interesting,” she said. “When you turn on a TV sitcom, you never see a show where everyone just sits around, discussing how perfect – how wonderful – their lives are. You need to decide what problems your characters have to overcome. And then, you must develop a creative way to solve the problem. That’s the key to writing a good book.”

She also told students to avoid discussing the plot of books or short stories with friends.

“You can talk yourself out and then you don’t have any interest in writing the story,” she said. “Sometimes, the joy comes just from the reactions friends have to the story. Then, you don’t feel like actually writing it. A lot of good stories die that way. Just write.”

Pevsner said that closed-mouth policy should be broken only when students have a problem in a story.

“If you find that you are stuck, you should get someone’s advice,” she said. “It’s amazing how quickly someone else can see the answer to your problem. Sometimes, the writer gets a mental block and it takes someone else to help them overcome it.”

Oxford Elementary student Lauren Johnson said she learned that professional authors get their ideas the same way she and her classmates do.

“(Pevsner) said one time this lady was telling her about her life, and she wrote a book about it,” said the 10-year-old Johnson, who co-wrote a book for the fair with friend Amy Jones. “We do the same thing. We like to write stories about things we like. Like, our favorite animal is the killer whale, so we wrote a story about killer whales. You are supposed to write about what interests you.”

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