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Kayla Darvin and Joshua Bennett hold “Surviving on CocoMoa Island,” the book they wrote and had published as part of a project that began in Carol Miller’s, background, gifted education class at Cummings Elementary School at Misawa Air Base, Japan.

Kayla Darvin and Joshua Bennett hold “Surviving on CocoMoa Island,” the book they wrote and had published as part of a project that began in Carol Miller’s, background, gifted education class at Cummings Elementary School at Misawa Air Base, Japan. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)

Kayla Darvin and Joshua Bennett hold “Surviving on CocoMoa Island,” the book they wrote and had published as part of a project that began in Carol Miller’s, background, gifted education class at Cummings Elementary School at Misawa Air Base, Japan.

Kayla Darvin and Joshua Bennett hold “Surviving on CocoMoa Island,” the book they wrote and had published as part of a project that began in Carol Miller’s, background, gifted education class at Cummings Elementary School at Misawa Air Base, Japan. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)

Cummings Elementary School students recently published two children’s books, “Surviving on CocoMoa Island” and “The Unknown Island,” a first for the school.

Cummings Elementary School students recently published two children’s books, “Surviving on CocoMoa Island” and “The Unknown Island,” a first for the school. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — “Alice in Wonderland” wasn’t written in a day. Nor was “Surviving on CocoMoa Island.”

Just ask Kayla Darvin and Joshua Bennett, the fifth-grade authors of the latter.

“I never knew it took so long to write a book,” Joshua said. “Twenty pages doesn’t seem like a lot.”

Those 20 pages, with only 75 words apiece, took the budding authors two months to pen.

But the payoff has been well worth it: “To have it actually published, it’s just so awesome to look at,” beamed Kayla, holding the emerald-green hardback she helped ink.

What started out as a problem-solving assignment in Cummings Elementary School teacher Carol Miller’s gifted education class turned into a first for the small Misawa school: Two published children’s books.

Fourth-graders Maya Singh, Sabrina Pena, Tianna Behrens, Samantha Calter, Kaitlynn Vickers, Alee Baet and Brittany DeVeau also had their story, “The Unknown Island,” printed in a hardbound edition.

Published through a stateside company that sells book-writing kits, the books weren’t distributed beyond the school. Each author received a copy, as did the library. No one was paid or received royalties; the project, in fact, cost about $500, for the kits and book copies.

But with the exception of churning out letters to literary agents, the students got experience with what it takes to turn an idea into a finished product, Miller said, from refining and whittling their words to providing illustrations.

“There were times they were pulling their hair out, they didn’t want to do it, but they lasted to the bitter end,” Miller said.

The original assignment for “Surviving on CocoMoa Island” began as a simulation for Miller’s students: They were to resolve through role-playing and brainstorming how six castaways survive being shipwrecked. One thing led to the next, and before long, the discussion turned into a script for a play. Kayla and Joshua then approached Miller about turning the play into a children’s book.

Out came the book kit, which guided the students on design, limited lines per page and allowed them even to choose their own font.

Kayla’s older sister, Michelle, provided detailed drawings in color pencil and Miller was “chief editor.” Miller also helped eight of Nancy Disla’s fourth-graders with their own book after they also expressed an interest in the project. That group pulled its photos from the Internet, giving due credit in their book — a lesson, Miller said, in copyright laws.

“Whether we do it again, I don’t know. It was long, but look at the end product,” Miller said. “This is the best way to teach the writing process. You learn that authors don’t just crank their book out in a month.”

Both “Surviving on CocoMoa Island” and “The Unknown Island” are available for check-out in Cummings’ school library.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

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