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South Allegheny students' work included in anthology

| Monday, Sept. 30, 2013, 4:11 a.m.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
South Allegheny middle school teachers Sarah Tomcik and Kari Valetto present advance copies of 'Your Stories, Volume 2' to seventh-graders Gracie Lotz and Chrissy Taylor.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
South Allegheny High School students Natalie Knapton and Tyler Hinerman autograph copies of 'Your Stories, Volume 2' for their teachers.

Nationally renowned teen author Taylor Joseph has included the writings of six South Allegheny students in her anthology “Your Stories, Volume 2.” a collection written by students from across the United States.

Taylor personally selected and edited the submissions from sophomore Natalie Knapton (“Survival of the Christmas Tree Farm”), freshman Tyler Hinerman (“A Dream Within a Dream”), eighth-grader Alex Baur (“The Robbery”), and seventh-graders Chrissy Taylor (“Stinky McPete”), Gracie Lotz (“Special”) and Maddie Klein (“Revenge”).

Teachers Kari Valetto and Sarah Tomcik said some of the pieces were written when the authors were in sixth-grade. They said they're thrilled with the quality of the work and with the number of South Allegheny students chosen.

“A couple of kids waited until the last minute to turn their stories in,” Valetto said with a laugh. “I was bugging them. Their parents were bugging them. Then I sat down to read these stories, and I was just floored.”

Tomcik, who edited the stories with Taylor, said she was excited to read the submissions again when the anthology was complete.

“There are all kinds of different stories and different takes on things, different perspectives,” she said. “They did a nice job, and they all have their own styles.”

Taylor's connection with South Allegheny students began in 2011, when she visited the district in a tour of more than 100 U.S. schools to promote literacy along with her own writing.

“It was their favorite assembly that we've ever had,” Valetto said of a program at the elementary school. “It was a teenager speaking to them. They were all at the edge of their seats.”

Taylor spoke not only about her interest in writing but about her hobbies and the aspects of life that inspire her work.

“They realized for the first time, ‘Hey, we might be able to do this,” she said.

Tomcik said Taylor piqued the middle school students' interest, even if they weren't awestruck by her presentation. Taylor gathered for lunch in the library with Tomcik's eighth-grade honors English students.

“They could definitely relate,” Tomcik said. “They appreciated that she was down to earth. She was a normal teenager.”

Natalie was one of those students, and she missed the deadline to be a part of Taylor's “Your Stories, Volume 1.” So she went to work on something in time for Taylor's next anthology.

“We went to pick out our Christmas tree at a farm,” Natalie said. “I thought, ‘What if people didn't have that option?' I dove deeper into that thought and wrote my story.”

Tyler, who was among a handful of elementary students who met with Taylor after her presentation, said he is thrilled to share her work.

“It feels pretty cool, like I've accomplished something significant in publishing something that other people can read,” he said.

Natalie and Tyler said the idea of being published in high school is amazing.

And for the others, being published as middle school students is beyond their wildest dreams.

“Taylor gave personal feedback to Maddie and Gracie,” Valetto said. “She said she could easily see their stories being full novels. To hear that about kids who are writing in sixth grade, I'm excited and impressed.”

The students are impressed with themselves.

“I feel like I'm famous, almost,” Gracie said. “Everyone who reads my story will know that I wrote it.”

“It feels very accomplishing to have my story published in a book,” added Chrissy, whose story inspired the anthology's cover art. “It's different. It's exciting.”

Natalie said she's most excited to have a real book on a shelf at home that includes her work.

Students and their teachers received advance copies of “Your Stories, Volume 2.” It will be available in local Barnes and Noble Booksellers stores and online at amazon.com in time for the holiday shopping season.

Jennifer R. Vertullo is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161 ext. 1956, or jvertullo@tribweb.com.

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