Feature stories

Super authors!

Students are the heroes in mission to create their own books

Students eagerly share their ideas for the class story. Maria Bastone

Students eagerly share their ideas for the class story.

PS 34 students react with amazement as field-trip coordinator Kathleen Fletcher Maria Bastone

PS 34 students react with amazement as field-trip coordinator Kathleen Fletcher demonstrates the superhero supply store’s “cape tester.”

Sophia shares her finished book with her mom. Maria Bastone

Sophia shares her finished book with her mom.

The Brooklyn Superhero Supply Company, an unassuming storefront on Fifth Avenue in Park Slope, first seems like a quirky novelty shop peddling capes, costumes and other “crime-fighting merchandise.”

But behind a door cleverly disguised as shelves at the back of the store lies a “Secret Library” that houses 826NYC, a nonprofit organization whose true mission is to support student writers. It was here that the 3rd-grade students of PS 34 in Greenpoint found themselves conscripted into a plan to assume superhero identities and please Miss Mildew, the crotchety head of the store’s publishing company, by producing exciting and original new books.

At least, that was the story spun by Kathleen Fletcher, 826NYC’s engaging field-trip coordinator, as she led the students into the store on a mid-October morning. After demonstrating the store’s “cape tester” — a giant fan — and other superhero supplies, Fletcher anxiously told the students that her boss, Miss Mildew, had issued a startling directive to her earlier that morning: Produce new books for the store’s publishing company, or you’re fired.

Fletcher’s plea to the students — “Will you help me make new books?” — was met with enthusiastic cries of “Yes! Absolutely!” with students scrambling to form a line in front of the Secret Library.

“Once I came in and saw all the superhero capes, I was immediately excited!” 8-year-old Jax announced as he waited on line, inspecting a panel in the wall labeled “Vault” and wondering aloud what it might contain.

Before entering the surprisingly spacious hidden library, each student was presented with a pair of “secret identity glasses” and asked to strike a superhero pose for an author photo.

Secret identities assumed, students participated in a breakneck brainstorming session about the elements of a good story. Then they had the opportunity to invent potential characters. The suggestions ranged from the more ordinary (a puppy) to the madcap (Mrs. Weirdo).

Their collective vote determined that their story would star a mad scientist inside an “arrestaurant” — a fancy eatery located inside a prison. As the story, which was being transcribed by a parent volunteer, swelled to include potions, a black-hole generator and zombies, Fletcher introduced the idea of a cliffhanger and sent the students off to finish the story and illustrate it on their own. Soon, the room was abuzz with students gleefully devising their own macabre conclusions to the tale of “The Mad Scientist Attacks.”

“I don’t usually like writing, but I love it today,” one student said to a chaperone.

As a final crowning touch, Fletcher bound each student’s book, complete with a blank cover and an author page where students could write in “Praise from the Critics.”

Each student had to fill in the “About the Author” section, too. “Maren loves writing and drawing. She wrote this book on her 3rd-grade field trip — the best field trip ever,” one student wrote.

PS 34 teacher Jadwiga Duffy declared the trip a great success as she surveyed her students applying finishing touches to their books.

“They were able to practice the elements of story-writing and creativity,” Duffy said. “It made them excited to write stories.”

When it was time to leave, Fletcher collected the students’ books. She cautioned the students, as she sent the books downstairs with another staff member, that they would be permitted to take the books home only if they were approved by Miss Mildew.

A few students were skeptical: Did Miss Mildew really exist?

Moments later, they heard a voice over a loudspeaker. “I didn’t like the books,” announced the mysterious Miss Mildew. She paused. “I loved them!”

The 3rd-graders cheered. Mission accomplished.

826NYC hosts a lottery for three varieties of field trips for students in grades 1 through 12 in its Secret Library. Field trips for Title I schools are free. Apply to the field-trip lottery »

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