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Short stories, tall tales

Fourth-graders become published authors in new anthology

East Grand Rapids — Hayes Dudley prefers writing short stories over chapter books. Instead of the action being drawn out over hundreds of pages, he said, “you can pack all the exciting bits into a shorter piece.”

He should know. Over the course of a nine-page story the Lakeside Elementary fourth-grader wrote, titled “Lifeline,” a boy on an Atlantic cruise with his family jumps overboard when there’s an explosion on the ship, manages to steer a leaky lifeboat to shore, escapes a herd of angry porcupines and manages to make a life for himself on a deserted island. And then …

Mark Pullen, fourth-grade teacher at Lakeside Elementary

It’s the kind of creativity that teacher Mark Pullen calls “fantastic to see. Kids really love writing fiction.”

Pullen moved from teaching third grade to fourth grade this school year. In his previous classes, he amassed his students’ poetry and other forms of personal writing into a self-published volume. Every student took home a copy, and one was added to Pullen’s classroom library and the shelves of the school’s learning commons.

This year’s collection of short stories by Pullen’s 19 students shows what they have learned in their realistic fiction writing unit, part of the Lucy Calkins Units of Study. He said the pieces showcase fourth-graders’ use of dialogue, story arcs and character development.

Claire Vanzanten’s short story, titled “Be My Orphan,” follows a boy named Billy’s journey from loneliness to acceptance via “one of the best facts of bullying history: ask them to be your friend,” she wrote.

Said Pullen of the anthology project: “It makes them feel like truly published authors. There’s definitely a sense of pride, not only when the book is published but as they are doing the work. They know they’re writing for a larger audience.”

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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a reporter and copy editor, covering East Grand Rapids, Forest Hills and Northview. She is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio

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