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SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — Some fiction authors plug away for decades before seeing their work published.

For 12-year-old John Pascual Jr., it didn’t take so long.

The Jack Darby Elementary School sixth- grader was chosen this winter to have his short story published alongside a New Jersey children’s book author.

“The Christmas Bunny” will run in an upcoming book by Lisa Funari Willever, who wrote the Nicky Fifth series of children’s books. Pascual also will be recognized at an honors awards ceremony at Darby this month.

The inspiration for Pascual’s story came last year when Willever visited Darby Elementary students for a PTO-sponsored presentation and writers workshop.

“I thought it was really cool, like a good chance to meet an author. I read her books, and I really like them,” Pascual said.

When he heard of Willever’s guest author contest, the seed was planted for “The Christmas Bunny.”

Willever chooses several stories by 6- to 12- year-olds from across the United States for publication in each of her books. So far, 33 young authors have been chosen through the guest author contest — an honor that comes with a small check, a copy of the book and a book-signing party, according to Willever.

Willever publishes her own books through Franklin Mason Press, based in Columbus, N.J. According to Willever, her books have been featured on “The Rosie O’Donnell Show” and chosen as a favorite by Laura Bush to be displayed at the White House.

“Little kids, I always hear them talking about how they like Christmas better than Easter, so that’s how I got the idea,” Pascual said.

In the story, Pascual said, the Easter Bunny gets discouraged and gives up his holiday after hearing too many complaints that the eggs either turn rotten or are empty of presents.

The bunny, trying to satisfy the children, takes the guise of Santa Claus and hands out presents at Christmas time, Pascual said.

Soon, the children miss Easter enough to persuade the rabbit to return to his traditional duties.

“They say they enjoy [Easter] because there’s also the thrill of hoping to find something really good inside” the eggs, Pascual said.

Willever and school officials said they hope to encourage such creative writing among students.

“The value of the contest is that we provide an avenue into the world of writing for children,” Willever said in an e-mail to Stars and Stripes. “They learn the submission process, write for a purpose and model the example of previous winners.”

Willever travels the country speaking at schools and encouraging students to write. She said she receives letters from parents and educators who appreciate the effort to get children more active in literature.

Darby Principal John Mueller said reading is one of the most important skills students can master in elementary school, and the Willever visit and guest author contest help.

“When you bring somebody over who actually writes books, it is such a rush for the kids,” Mueller said. “They get to know who wrote this book, and it gets them all excited.”

Senior Chief Petty Officer John Pascual Sr., stationed aboard the USS Juneau, said he is happy to see his son develop skills and hobbies such as writing.

“My wife and I are impressed and very proud of our son’s achievement, and we hope he continues to aim high and follow his dreams,” Pascual wrote to Stars and Stripes. “He’s always been a very obedient and respectful son.”

Students interested in entering the guest author contest can go to www.franklinmasonpress.com.


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