When Susan McGarry read the news article about Pachyderm Picasso, an elephant who painted self-portraits that sold for as much as $700, trumpet sounds went off in her head.
Workshop leader and author Gloria Rothstein led Susan and her classmates through a writing exercise where they described how something unexpected got into the possession of an animal.
“My favorite piece that I wrote was the news article,” said Susan, of Boca Raton. “I’m on the newspaper at my middle school, so I enjoyed writing an article that would fit in a newspaper.”
Susan, who attends Bak Middle School of the Arts in West Palm Beach, was one of the tweens ages 9 to 12 who attended “Once Upon a Happily Ever After,” Rothstein’s summer writing program at Sugar Sand Park Community Center in Boca Raton.
“My summer program focuses on the magic of writing,” Rothstein said. “Kids get to see what some of their favorite authors wrote when they were kids. In fact, they actually see examples of how great ideas from childhood turned into best-selling books/series for some of these authors many years later.”
Rothstein, of Boca Raton, is the author of “Sheep Asleep” (HarperCollins) — a picture book PBS Kids for Parents calls “hysterical” — and “Real-Life Writing Activities Based on Favorite Picture Books” (Scholastic). She also is a speaker for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.
Her summer writing workshops, for children and adults, have been mainstays at Sugar Sand for years.
“Much of what I do with kids, I also do in my adult workshops with aspiring writers and published authors,” Rothstein said. “Writers of all ages can learn so much from great books, great writers, great ideas … and each other.”
At “Once Upon a Happily Ever After,” many exercises are interactive. Kids share ideas, create new characters and brainstorm story plots.
“One fun, interesting thing I learned at this camp was to be very creative, and write down whatever thought you have, even if they may sound silly,” said Elizabeth Phillips of Boca Raton.
Susan was “thrilled to discover a type of writing that you are into.”
Taylor Muskat of Boca Raton learned how to write dialogue stories, and program volunteer Victoria Allen, also of Boca, was inspired by all the possibilities for her characters.
“They can be whoever or whatever you want,” Victoria said.
Rothstein “loved” watching to experience the joy of writing.
“It was a productive week,” said the writing coach and mentor. “The kids enjoyed one creative activity after another … and they loved sharing their work with each other.”
As part of the summer program, the kids get to visit Sugar Sand Park’s Science Explorium and were used to spark story ideas.
“The kids are always excited about the Explorium, but they always seem to be pleasantly surprised by how much they enjoy the carousel,” Rothstein said.
Some of , and “Once Upon a Holiday,” a five-week writing workshop for adults.
With every class, Rothstein strives to offer something fresh.
“Not only do the kids learn from (their) favorite authors and books, but they’re inspired to play with words, to use their imaginations, and to write all kinds of things they’ve probably never written before,” Rothstein said.