By fifth grade, most students are just starting to write coherent compositions. Lacey Hickey is a whole different story.
Last year, as a fifth grader at Millstone Elementary School, she co-authored a children’s book thanks to a writing contest started a few years ago by West New York author Jane Lovascio.
Lovascio is the author of the Casey and Bella children’s books, and Hickey’s manuscript, Casey and Bella Go to Hawaii, became the fourth book in the series, which Lovascio has opened up to ideas from grade schoolers.
Casey and Bella go to ….
After Lovascio graduated from Boston University with a background in elementary education, finding a job in her desired career path proved difficult. She chose, instead, to take a job in medical sales.
“There’s no age limit to being a published author.” – Jane Lovascio.
The book, as would be common with future books in the series, had a moral: “Treat others as you would want to be treated.”
When she shopped her book to publishers, she asked two questions: Can I visit schools, and can I do a writing contest? Big Tent Books said “yes” to both.
About three and a half years ago, Lovascio attended a New Jersey Teachers’ Convention, spoke to some teachers, and soon after, began presenting her book and inspirational lessons at no charge in classrooms all across New Jersey and New York.
So far, she has given presentations at over 250 schools, most recently in North Bergen and Jersey City.
Children in Kindergarten through fifth grade listen to a reading of a Casey and Bella book, view pictures of the real-life Casey and Bella, help Lovascio come up with their own ideas for the dogs’ adventures in the interactive portion, and receive an inspirational talk.
“Whether it’s tomorrow or five years from now, I help them to believe in themselves,” she said. “Any child can become whatever he wants to be, whether it’s a teacher, doctor, or chef.”
Lovascio also educates the children about the charity associated with each year’s book. The charity for Casey and Bella Go to Hawaii is Jumpstart, which helps preschoolers build early literacy skills.
At the end of her visit, she stays behind to sign books pre-pawprinted by Casey and Bella and passes out bookmarks with information about how to access her website, the first step to submitting a story idea.
The road to becoming a published author
“When I would visit schools, kids would say ‘Oh, what about if they go to Disney World’ or ‘What if they go back in time,’” she said. “I thought, ‘wouldn’t it be great if they could come up with their own adventures?’ ”
In this vein, Lovascio started the Casey and Bella Story contest three years ago for third, fourth, and fifth graders to give children the opportunity to have their story idea professionally published.
“When I was in third grade, fourth grade, I thought an author was a special person,” she said. “[But] everybody can write a children’s book. There’s no age limit to being a published author.”
Last year, Lovascio received 1,500 entries for the contest.
The grand prize winner receives a published book, $500 cash, a dedication page with her name and picture inside, and a plaque and certificate.
First, second, and third place winners also receive special honors, and all finalists receive a certificate to honor their work.
Impact upon a child
Casey and Bella Go to Hawaii was not the first foray into writing for Hickey, who has worked on five separate books in her young lifetime.
“Sometimes I just get an idea and I think, ‘that’s a pretty good moral for a story.’ ”
After Lovascio came to her school last year, Hickey decided that she wanted to enter the competition to author the next book in the Casey and Bella series.
Armed with the moral, “Follow your dreams and who you are,” she plunked herself down at the computer in her mother’s office and composed the dogs’ adventures to Hawaii, where they surfed, took a tour of a volcano, and even did some hula dancing.
The experience, Hickey said, has had a big impact on her life.
“I definitely feel more confident now and know I can do what I want, no matter what,” she said.
As part of winning the contest and becoming a published author, Hickey will also get to do a book signing of Casey and Bella Go to Hawaii next month at the Barnes and Noble in Freehold.