Jeffrey Kitchen is 6 years old and he's already written a book. It's about a cute canine named Woof-Woof who gobbles up too many french fries and gets sick. The moral -- dogs ought to stick to dog food.
But everyone loves a good dog story and it's much harder to succeed at writing adventure stories. Yet Matt Arbach, a sixth grader at Kettering Elementary School in Prince George's County, is author of two successful adventure books.
Kitchen and Arbach are two of more than 200 Prince George's County public school students who have written, illustrated and bound their own stories into books for the county's 1978-79 annual Write-A-Book competition. s
The entries were judged by professional authors of children's books and last week two of them, Helen Pierce Jacob and Larry Callen, were on hand at the Palmer Park Services Center in Landover to present the awards.
It was a Prince George's version of New York City's glittering publishing parties.
After receiving his first place award, Jeffrey Kitchen handled an interview somewhat nervously, his legs kicking against the chair and his large brown eyes fixed on the floor.
Why did you write the book? he was asked.
"Cause I wanted to."
Spinning out yarns comes naturally to Jeffrey, said his proud mother. Jeffrey started telling the story about Woof-Woof to the librarian at Woodmore Elementary School and she wrote down the epic.
Matt Arbach, who wrote "The Gates of Didoria," is a shy adolescent who fidgets with his coat and answers questions with "I guess so." But give him some paper and a pen and his prose sparkles.
"Writing is an outlet for him," said his teacher, Marilyn Raphael. "That's his way of expressing himself. I get chills when I see the growth in his style."
Larry Callens, one of the judges, said he was impressed with the students' writing ability.
"I live in Montgomery County and everyone talks about the high quality of education there. But we don't have a program like this one," he said.
Lori Harper, a student at Oxon Hill Senior High, covered her book, "A to Z," with red linen on which she embroidered a turtle, a butterfly and a flower. On the back of the book Harper sewed a pocket which she filled with cardboard pictures. The readers must match the pictures with the letters of the alphabet.
Inspiration came easily to some of the young authors. Myla Goldberg was sitting on the sidewalk near home when suddenly she envisioned little people living in the grass. Goldberg, a third grader at Montpelier Elementary School, wrote her book "The Little People." Little People are afraid of dogs and cats because the animals mistake them for bugs and eat them. Sometimes the little people get squashed by big people who walk on the grass. Little people sleep underground and come up during the day through the stalks of buttercups.
Other young authors wrote about more familiar subjects. Mark Uhl, a fifth grader at Kettering Elementary School, likes to play soccer. His protagonist, Joe McPhatten, is a soccer player who only cares about winning trophies. In the prize winning book, appropriately named "The Trophy," Joe breaks his and is forced to miss a team trip to another city. The team gets on the plane.
"Something was wrong. The plane was not going up. Someone started screaming. There was a loud roar and bright flashes. Then silence."
Joe finds another team and learns an important lesson.
"He was happy because he had found a team again. That was more important than anything. It was the best trophy of all."