John Sabraw, author and illustrator of the children's book "I Wouldn't Be Scared," told students at East Heights School Monday that they shouldn't be scared to try to publish their own books.
"Everybody has a story," Sabraw said in his presentation to the entire student body. "One of you could write a story and turn it into a children's book. And because you're younger, the publisher will want to publish it more."
Sabraw warned the students that several of their manuscripts might be turned down but to keep on trying. Sabraw himself had eight or nine manuscripts rejected before "I Wouldn't Be Scared," his first book, was accepted for publication in 1988.
Sabraw, 21, said his publishing efforts were made easier by living in New York City. But it wasn't long ago that Sabraw lived in Lawrence, and that's how he came to be booked by the school.
ACCORDING to East Heights Librarian Marilyn Baxter, she found Sabraw's book to be very interesting, and her interest was piqued even further when she read in the book that Sabraw was from Kansas.
"I thought I would start checking around to see what part of Kansas he was from," Baxter said.
Baxter learned that Sabraw's mother, Sharon Sabraw, was a teacher at Centennial School. Mrs. Sabraw gave her son's telephone number to Baxter and, before long, arrangements had been made for Sabraw to speak at the school.
Baxter said various authors had spoken at the school for the last two years but that Sabraw was the first author to come from out of state. News of the author's imminent visit sparked the interest of the students, and Baxter had to order more copies of Sabraw's book for the school library.
SOME OF THE students worked on special projects dealing with Sabraw's book. First-graders in Julie McKain's class wrote their own sequels to the book, and first-graders in Nancy Scott's class made their own illustrations for it. Those illustrations were then transferred to cloth using fabric crayons, and the illustrations were sewn into a cloth wall-hanging by Mildred Lewis, who has a fourth-grade granddaughter at the school. On Monday, Sabraw signed the hanging for the first-graders.
Sabraw told the students that in addition to being fun, writing a book can be profitable.
"It's a way to make a living," he said. "You can actually write children's books and eat, too. It's been done."
Sabraw said that one requirement for getting a children's book published was that it be at least 32 pages long. The printer's sheets used for children's books hold exactly 32 pages, he explained.
Sabraw then turned around and explained how he had managed to publish a story that was only 26 pages long.
"FILL IT with front matter, and you'll get it published," Sabraw said, referring to his book's title page, title page illustration, dedication page, copyright page and several blank pages.
Another piece of advice that Sabraw offered to aspiring young authors was to develop characters that readers could relate to.
"What's important in a story is someone you can care about," Sabraw said.
Then, to show the students they had writing potential, Sabraw worked with the group in developing a four-panel short story. Using suggestions from the students, Sabraw ended up illustrating the story of Heather, a green blob with tiger eyes that one day had the misfortune of falling into a frying pan.
After Sabraw's presentation, students were allowed to choose one book each from a collection of about 800 children's books. Baxter said the books were purchased through the Reading Is Fundamental (RIF) program with a $750 grant from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.
BAXTER SAID the remaining books would be distributed on two other separate occasions.
"That way, it keeps the children reading over a period of time," she said.
Baxter said the brand new books really made the students excited about reading, much as Sabraw's homecoming had.
Although Sabraw attended elementary school in Idaho, he completed his secondary education at South Junior High School and Lawrence High School.
After graduating from high school in 1986, Sabraw moved to New York to attend the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, where he earned an associate's degree in illustration. Sabraw has enjoyed drawing since his childhood, but he said his interest in writing was a rather recent development.
"All of a sudden I decided I wanted to make my own story instead of illustrating someone else's text," Sabraw said.
Sabraw, who also has designed clothing for Gitano, now would like to attend Vancouver Film School and work on writing screenplays.
"I get bored very fast, so I have to keep going from one project to the next," Sabraw said.