By Anne Williams
Bemidji Pioneer 

Third-graders win challenge for writing book about planets


Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

From left, Red Lake Elementary School third-graders Reise Prentice, Barry Cloud, Brandon Dow and Karma Strong proudly review the book, “A Trip to the Planets,” they wrote and illustrated with the guidance of their teacher, John Eklund. The book was selected as a National Book Challenge winner.

John Eklund, a teacher at Red Lake Elementary School, has driven a spaceship to several planets. He has also encountered aliens and had to be saved a few times by students.

If this sounds like a story, it is, but an award-winning one. A class of third-graders are celebrating a book they wrote titled “A Trip to the Planets,” which was selected as a winner in the Nationwide Learning National Book Challenge.

As a class project, each student chose a planet and wrote facts about it such as its size, length of orbit and number of moons. The students illustrated their planet and wrote their own fictional story of a trip they took to their planet.

Some students included their stories tales of family members visiting their planet and encountering extraterrestrial life. Other students wrote about their teacher, Mr. Eklund, and his travels to outer space while touring the different planets.

Many of the students agreed the key to writing a book was gathering a lot of information and practicing the illustrations before the doing the final draft.

“You have to learn about the planets before you write about them,” said student Marlene Blue.

Nationwide Learning selected winning books based on the storyline, colorful illustrations and if publishing guidelines were followed.

This is the fourth year Eklund has had students write a book. Previous class books were printed on paper bound together. This is the first year the book was published as a hard cover and printed on glossy paper.

Eklund said students fulfill specific science education standards, which require them to research facts about planets. But instead of writing research papers and turning them in, Eklund said a project like writing a book allows students to remember what they learned.

“It sticks,” he said. “It is very hands on. I was afraid when they were asked about their planets, they wouldn’t remember because it has been a few months, but they remembered. That’s the big deal.”

The students started writing and illustrating the book in the beginning of the school year. The book was not published until later this winter.

“We had a morning meeting every day,” Eklund said. “The students each read their story out loud to each other before the book was published.”

For winning the National Book Challenge the students received a $100 for their classroom and each received a free copy of the book.

“It turned out really nice,” Eklund said about the book. “They did a nice job.”


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