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Literary tales from the young

At two bucks, it is probably the best literary value in town. But they are selling fast, so if you want a copy of Leopard Literature, you've got to act now.

The 83-page literary magazine is the work of the first-grade through sixth-grade students at Baldomero Lopez Elementary School in Seffner. It is packed with poems and stories from about 150 students who worked all year writing, rewriting and polishing their work.

Fourth-grade teacher Margaret Wiles headed the project, which eventually included parent volunteers (for typing), sixth-graders (for assembling and writing) and teachers from each grade.

Wiles said the idea came about because the school newspaper, the Lopez Ledger, was filling up with poems and stories at the expense of news. So, for the first time, teachers decided to produce a journal of literature.

All students could submit their work and Wiles said the lure of publication encouraged students to express themselves and to perfect their craftsmanship.

"You'd be amazed at what these children have written," Wiles said. "They had to use words to make their stories come alive. It took rewriting. It took a lot of work."

The results are charming, interesting and even disturbing. Third-grader Lorraine Bell offered this poem called Eat:

Oh, little dog, down at my

feet

They tell me that you are very

sweet,

But you nipped at my nose.

Now you're nipping at my

toes.

You must think I'm

something good to eat.

Most of the younger children focused on puppies, kittens, spring days and other pleasant topics. Wiles said teachers steered the older students away from topics such as violence or drugs that could bother younger readers.

But not everything in the magazine is light and airy. The war in the Persian Gulf reflected the fears of even the youngest students. This is from War in Saudi Arabia:

"There is a war in Saudi Arabia. People are getting hurt in the war. . . . Many families in the United States are being separated. . . . We hope the troops come home safe." _ Mrs. Yanni's first-grade class.

First-grader Danielle Eugenio suggested a combination of compromise and caution in Dear Soldier: "I really wish no one got hurt. Why don't you try to talk? If that won't work, be careful. You never know what's up their sleeve."

Some of the writers use beautiful turns of phrase, such as fifth-grader Christopher Whitesell, who describes a character as "a willow-wild street-wise boy" or sixth-grader Leah Allen, who writes, "fall is the time/When summer dies." Fifth-grader Alena Ranier asks: "How can it be that you can't hear/The voice of love through your pink ear?"

After working so hard to produce the magazine, any teacher who worried the effort went unnoticed could take heart reading Miracle Lotion by fifth-grader Judy Ingram.

In her story, a magic lotion turns Judy into a teacher. The transformation makes her feel "really smart," but the noisy students give her a headache.

"I thought I was going to lose my mind," she wrote, concluding: "I will never use lotion again, and if I'm going to be a teacher, I want to wait until I'm a whole lot older."

Wiles said 175 copies of the magazine were sold last week, which qualifies it as a best-seller. Plans are being laid for another issue next year.

"Now that they've seen the book, next year will be bigger and better," Wiles said.

Sally Hicks is bureau chief of the Times' Brandon office.

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