School literary magazines can serve as a nice outlet for student writers, although such opportunities typically don’t arise until high school or college.
South Anna Elementary School doesn’t make them wait that long. There, kindergarteners get published, right alongside fifth graders and everyone in-between.
“The Magic Mailbox” debuted in 1986, and it has come out most years since then, making it the longest running student literary magazine in Hanover. Currently, South Anna publishes the magazine annually with sponsorship from the PTA.
“Writing is such a significant part of the students’ lives,” said Hillary Billingsley, SAES reading specialist and faculty sponsor of the magazine.
“We really want to show them that there’s purpose to their writing—not just writing to complete an assignment, but that it’s a valuable form of communication,” she continued.
Former SAES teachers Sandy Cantor and Jo Finley came up with the original idea for “The Magic Mailbox.”
“She and I decided that since writing is a cornerstone, or communications skills is a cornerstone for any child’s education, that we should do a literary magazine,” said Cantor, who retired last year.
Students submit their work on a voluntary basis with parent permission. They can write fiction, non-fiction, or poetry.
It doesn’t matter whether they wrote it on their own time or as part of a class assignment, as long as they’re proud of their work.
“The criteria is just that you feel strongly about the piece—something that you would want to share with others,” Billingsley explained.
Students are also encouraged to submit artwork for the cover and interior. Writing submissions can focus on any topic they want, but illustrations are solicited in specific categories.
This year, the publication’s theme is “Wild About Writing,” so expect to see a lot of animals in the margins.
A committee of teachers and PTA members reviews all submissions, with the goal of trying to publish as many pieces as possible. They at least make sure all grade levels and abilities are represented.
Billingsley said there’s never any shortage of submissions.
This year’s submissions process is underway. The magazine comes out each June and is distributed to the entire school community. Libraries and School Board members also receive copies.
The pages include space for autographs, so the young authors can sign their work.
“They also read with it in class the last couple of weeks and then take it home and have it all summer to read, encouraging them to keep reading before they come back the next year,” Billingsley said.
“My favorite thing is seeing how the children’s imagination can just run wild,” Cantor said.
Cantor said the children “light up” when they see their published work.
“It spurs them on to write more, to be creative, to use their communication skills—because writing is a communication skill that they have to use for the rest of their life,” she said.
Third-grader Evan Dauksys wrote about a leprechaun encounter for last year’s lit mag.
He described his story: “He left a track of golden candy, and I wanted it all, so I followed him to where he kept all of it, and I finally got it, and then we became best friends.”
And what did he enjoy about the writing process? “Everything,” he responded.
Fourth grader Hill Sewell’s short story, “Fortunately, I Found a Frog,” was published last year.
“I go to find my frog that went to Texas, but a bunch of good things happen and bad things happen,” he explained.
The story materialized as his class was learning about the words “fortunately” and “unfortunately,” and cause and effect.
Fifth-grader Matt Gemmill submitted an assignment in which he had to write about an abstract noun. He chose “expectation,” and the piece was published last year.
“I mostly learned that you should always edit, always,” he said. “It’s best to read out your story aloud when you’re editing because then you realize more of your mistakes.”
Gemmill said he most enjoys writing first drafts.
“I liked how I could take my brainstorming and ideas and put them into words,” he said.
Billingsley said one thing they are trying to emphasize to the students is that learning to read and write well is about more than passing the SOL test.
“We do it because they’re life skills that you are going to need no matter what profession you’re in, no matter what position you hold,” she said. “For the rest of your life, you are going to need to read and write.”
She added: “We want to make sure that the kids have lots of opportunities to succeed.”
The literary magazine is another venue to help achieve that aim.
“[Students should] feel that their writing is meaningful, that it’s purposeful, and that people are appreciating what they’re doing,” Billingsley said.