The best story I read this week was called 88 Keys.
The author is in second grade.
It's the story of a little boy who plays piano, a piano given to him by his 86-year-old neighbor, Ms. Cappy. She used to play every morning, but she became sick and had to move to Texas, where her daughter could take care of her. So she gave the piano, made in 1886, to the little boy. He took lessons and even played in a big competition in Jacksonville.
He sent a video of his performance to Ms. Cappy in Texas. She wanted to come see the little boy play back in Florida, but she was too sick. Ms. Cappy died last year.
The little boy cried when he was told. But he's happy now because his parents told him that Ms. Cappy is watching him play piano from heaven.
When Christopher Daniel, a second-grader from Ridgecrest Elementary, read his autobiographical story Tuesday night onstage at the Palladium Theater while barely looking down at his paper, a Kleenex convention broke out among the 350 or so in the audience. Then Christopher, wearing a button-down long-sleeve gray shirt tucked into his neatly pressed black trousers, was asked to play a piano that was onstage.
With no music, no preparation and no idea he was going to be asked, Christopher sat in front of 88 keys and brought down the house with an impromptu melody.
As you can tell by now, this is not a sports column.
As I sat down to write for today, I could have written about the things I normally would write about this time of year. The NBA or NHL playoffs, the Rays or the Bucs.
Instead, I've chosen to write about a night too special not to write about. It was when Pinellas County schools celebrated the art of writing by featuring the stunningly brilliant skills of local children. It was the publication celebration of The Cross Creek Chronicle, a 127-page book featuring the works of nearly 150 children from kindergarten through fifth grade.
For me, this started a few months back. Mary Osborne, the instructional staff developer with the county school system, reached out about being a guest writer for the Chronicle. For the past 17 years, Osborne and dozens of committed teachers have championed writing by producing this must-read collection of stories by elementary students.
For this edition, I wrote about how I became interested in writing. I thought it was a nice little tale about how I used to write nice little stories as a kid based on a baseball board game. I was asked to read my story Tuesday night at the Palladium.
I've always heard that whenever you appear onstage, you should never follow animals or kids. I now know why.
Before I took the stage, six kids read their amazing works, leaving me searching for a back door where I could sneak out.
Zahara Delbrune, a kindergartner from Pasadena Fundamental, went first. Her story, Playing Outside, was about how she ended up wearing a cast after falling off her scooter.
There was Camden Luke, a first-grader from Gulf Beaches Elementary, whose Baseball is the perfect primer for whenever the Rays are in one of their notorious slumps.
Cambell Mischler, a third-grader from Curtis Fundamental, wrote Paddling with Pa, a comic turn that inspires by telling readers life is no fun without risks, even if you end up smelling like dead fish.
Khari Jenkins, a fourth-grader from Pinellas Central Elementary, wrote My Christmas Elf, a thrill-ride mix of science fiction, humor and fantasy about a special visitor at a certain time of year.
Then there was Yohanni Cortes, a fifth-grader from Lakewood Elementary, who wrote The Happiness. It's a story so dramatic, so provocative, so ominous that trying to explain it in a few sentences would be an injustice. I would say that Yohanni will be a great writer someday, but that's not right. He already is a great writer.
Shortly after, I followed with my story, honored to have stood on the same stage as Zahara, Camden, Christopher, Cambell, Khari and Yohanni. I'm even more proud that my story is included among the works of writers who have artistry well beyond their years.
Flip through the pages of the latest Cross Creek Chronicle. Stop anywhere and prepare to be blown away.
Read I Am Me by Mia Willix (Grade 5, Lakeview Fundamental), a poem about being pushed down, making mistakes and finding a way to get back up. Read The Friendship Cycle by D'arnaesia Edwards (Grade 4, Ridgecrest) about going to a new school and having no friends. Read The Report Card by Rena Gonos (Grade 3, Bauder Elementary), a relatable-to-everyone story about the nervousness of opening a report card.
The stories are funny, heartbreaking and heartwarming, poignant. More than anything, they are honest.
Each page unveils another remarkable story, made even more dazzling when you realize you have cans of soup in your cupboards older than most of these writers.
I'm blessed to work at the Tampa Bay Times, a newspaper that has won 12 Pulitzer Prizes. I'm humbled to work alongside incredible writers such as Lane DeGregory and John Romano.
But I can honestly say that I've never been more flattered than to share my byline with all the special authors in The Cross Creek Chronicle. I'm certain my work does not measure up to the rest of the book.
And I can't play piano, either.