Nearly 450 students gathered in the old gym at Frank Layden Elementary School Friday morning to enthusiastically cheer on their classmates as they received their medals.

Nearly 450 students gathered in the old gym at Frank Layden Elementary School Friday morning to enthusiastically cheer on their classmates as they received their medals.

They were gathered to receive awards for the books they had authored over the previous year. And at that age, it’s hard not to get excited when your name is called in front of 430 wildly-cheering peers.

Each year for the past 22 years the school has hosted its annual Young Authors Conference, in which a children’s book author visits the students talks about life as an author and what that career entails. The program was started by first-grade teacher Kathy Clark and retired first-grade teacher Betty Kunshek. This year was the second year it was overseen by second-grade teachers Julie Curran and Caroline Capehart.

“We volunteered because we just wanted to be more involved with the kids and do something extra for them,” Capehart said.

From their reaction, the program is something the kids clearly enjoy. Writing from their own experience, the young writers get to share a a story that’s unique to them. And besides being a fun distraction on a wintery Friday morning — and whether they actually realize it — it teaches them a lesson.

“They get to go through the full writing process,” Capehart sad. “The use their creativity and see what it takes to write a book from start to finish. They also get the accomplishment of writing a book.”

This year, the students were visited by Kansas City children’s author Jenny Whitehead, a Kansas City-based author/illustrator of “ Lunch Box Mail And Other Poems,” “Holiday Stew.” She also illustrated Elsa Knight Bruno’s book “Punctuation Celebration.” Like last year’s author Laura Haluskia-Beith, Whitehead got her start writing and illustrating greeting cards at Hallmark in Kansas City before embarking on her new literary career.

After the awards presentation the students broke off into groups by grade level, some to read their stories to volunteers who spent the morning visiting with the kids and encouraging them as they read their stories aloud, and others to listen to and watch Whitehead use a rutabaga show how she puts her books together. The kids were eager to watch, and Whitehead was eager to teach.

“This is the first school I’ve been to where I can say ‘Who’s an author-illustrator?’ and each one of you can raise your hand. That’s cool!” she said to the first group.
Whitehead didn’t begin training as an artist until she entered college, but said she’s been writing since she was in seventh grade.

“I had a wonderful teacher who taught us all about great writing,” she said.

A positive person by nature, Whitehead said writing children’s books seemed a perfect fit.

“I like to write from a kid’s perspective because I like to give kids a voice,” she said. “I like to give a unique perspective, like from the last leaf that falls from a tree.”
Whitehead said she produces her art by hand, then scans it into a computer to clean it up.

“I like the hand of the artist because it’s not so perfect,” she said. “It becomes relatable.”

Some of the students are winners year-in and year-out. Last year, current fifth grader Madison Miller won the “Best Illustrator” prize in Angela Siebuhr’s fourth grade class for her story “That Hooligan Baby...Strikes Again!!!” an account of the vexing exploits of her 2 1/2-year-old brother, Maddox. Miller had planned an extended series chronicling the sibling rivalry, but appears to have changed her tune a bit. This year, Miller won “Best Illustrator in Cory Martin’s fifth grade class for her story “The Hooligan Baby Is My Best Friend.”

Best Intermediate Writer: Cale Franklin
Best Primary Writer: Trinity Lohrmeyer

Teacher: Angela Espinoza
Best representative (First place): Josh Staggs, “I Am A Superhero”
Best cover (Second place): Tyler Antle, “Grave Digger”
Best Illustrator (Third place): Gauge Garner, “That Is The Time I Went To Science City”
Honorable mention: Kal Terlip, “Adventure At Indian Hills”
Honorable mention: Trey Cramer, “The Best Basketball Player”

Teacher: Renee Gillard
Best representative: Avery  O’Hara, “Mermaid Friendship”
Best cover: Avery  O’Hara, “Mermaid Friendship”
Best Illustrator): Jonah Sparks, “My Baseball Team”
Honorable mention: Jake Keith, “Train Wrecks”
Honorable mention: Carter Snow, “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town”

Teacher: Susie Murray
Best representative: Chloe Watson, “My Adventure”
Best cover: Magie Payne, “I Am A Big Sister”
Best Illustrator: Adison Cameron, “Playing Outside With My Cousin”
Honorable mention: Indica Goodwin, “Felix The Super Cat”
Honorable mention: Orin Eckhardt, “Santa’s Shirts”

Teacher: Dwayne Taylor
Best representative: Evan Zafuta, “The Long Wait For Santa”
Best cover: Vinny Pile, “Weather”
Best Illustrator: Abram Frankenberry, “The Basketball Game”
Honorable mention: Emma Eckstein, “Becoming Millee’s Mom”
Honorable mention: Breeann Huebner, “My Family”

First Grade
Teacher: Kathy Clark
Best representative: Trinity Lohrmeyer, “My Best Friend”
Best cover: Gauge Tomasi, “Football”
Best Illustrator: Mallory Diaz, “The 7 Habits Of Happy Kids”
Honorable mention: Mario Menghini, “Baseball”
Honorable mention: Alexis McDonald, “My 6th Birthday”

Teacher: Robin Craig
Best representative: Alyssa Taylor, “My Dad Said ‘No’”
Best cover: Lilly Thompson, “Super Pups”
Best Illustrator: Colin Hite, “My Favorite Football Game”
Honorable mention: Vinh Nguyen, “The Zoo In Kansas City”
Honorable mention: Catheryn Poe, “The Polar Queen”

Teacher: Annie Robertson
Best representative: Makaylee Burns, “My Dog”
Best cover: Hope Talent, “Leo, My Dog”
Best Illustrator: Hattie Pyle, “The Candyland Girls”
Honorable mention: Mia Vesco, “Super Pup vs. Evil Duck”
Honorable mention:

Second Grade
Teacher: Ann Brown
Best representative: Avery Stotts, “I Hate Being The Middle Child”
Best cover: Camden McDonald, “My Trip To Florida”
Best Illustrator: Alexis Leonard, “The Adventure Of Sam And Oddie”
Honorable mention: Lily Gariglietti, “Chicken Queen”
Honorable mention: Dawson Lapping, “When Jack Became A NASCAR Racer”

Teacher: Caroline Capehard
Best representative: Lexi McGowan, “The Flower Power Girl”
Best cover: Lizzy Murphy, “Habitats”
Best Illustrator: Kaston Fields, “Last Year’s Vacation”
Honorable mention: Julian Berrouet, “Super Sharpeners”
Honorable mention: Josh Temaat, “My Dog Shian”

Teacher: Julie Curran
Best representative: Cruz Blair, “The Monkey Food Fight”
Best cover: Katie Fry, “My Family Rocks”
Best Illustrator: Parker Beckman, “A Trip To Destin, Florida”
Honorable mention: Eric Jones, “Hunting With Uncle Shawn”
Honorable mention: Cooper Hamblin, “The Camping Trip”

Teacher: Sarah Vanderpool
Best representative: Sarah Wood, “Babies Going To The Moon”
Best cover: Alea Allman, “The Wonderful Times I Had With My Mother”
Best Illustrator: Sydney Frankenberry, “The Best Days I Ever Had”
Honorable mention: Owen Zafuta, “Monster House”
Honorable mention: Brady Stanley, “Sam’s Adventure”

Third Grade
Teacher: Martha Harper
Best representative: Seth Tinsley, “My Trip To Disneyworld”
Best cover: Reagan Hipfl, “My Dog, Frenchy”
Best Illustrator: Adison O’Hara, “How Autumny Was Found”
Honorable mention: Brett Cleland, “My Trip To Oceans Of Fun”
Honorable mention: Desiray Laidler, “Isabella”

Teacher: Kacey Lemert
Best representative: Gracen Hipfl, “My Florida Vacation”
Best cover: Reagan Clark, “My Trip To Branson”
Best Illustrator: Bennie Adarr, “All About Pokemon Facts”
Honorable mention: Conner Taylor, “My Dog Oscar”
Honorable mention: Mallory Snow, “I Wish My School Would Turn Into Candy”

Teacher: Leann Marlier
Best representative: Railey Robertson, “First Deer”
Best cover: Cadence Handshy, “The Bird Lady”
Best Illustrator: Elizabeth Moser, “The Time I Went To Roaring River”
Honorable mention: Hannah Eckstein, “The Girl Who Cried Spelling Test”
Honorable mention: Elizabeth Moser, “The Time I Went To Roaring River”

Teacher: Karen Osborn
Best representative: Abby Butcher, “My Trip To Texas”
Best cover: Lillie Diaz, “Lillie’s Big Move”
Best Illustrator: Abby Butcher, “My Trip To Texas”
Honorable mention: Lillie Diaz, “Lillie’s Big Move”
Honorable mention: Kegan Praisewater-Rader, “The Time I Got My Dog Lyra”

Fourth Grade
Teacher: Andrea Merrick
Best representative: Autumn Bryant, “The Reindeer Who Lived In Rudolph’s Shadow”
Best cover: Caleb Hemby, “My Trip To Alabama”
Best Illustrator: Hannah Merando, “Going To The St. Louis Zoo”
Honorable mention: Keirstin Dunsworth, “My Trip To Disney World”
Honorable mention: Hannah Merando, “Going To The St. Louis Zoo”

Teacher: Debbie Restivo
Best representative: Brayden Dauben, “The Revenge”
Best cover: Jordan Walsingham, “Alien Attack”
Best Illustrator: Jake Beckmann, “Four Alien Monkeys”
Honorable mention: Brant Chance, “My Football Season”
Honorable mention: Jadyn Meyer, “My Dog Cody”

Teacher: Angela Siebuhr
Best representative: Bria Ginivan, “How I Started The 4th Grade”
Best cover: Tucker Jessip, “My Super Best Friend”
Best Illustrator: Bria Ginivan, “How I Started The 4th Grade”
Honorable mention: Karma Fields, “Last In The Wilderness”
Honorable mention: Tucker Jessip, “My Super Best Friend”

Teacher: Tim Vesco
Best representative: Wil Jameson, “My Trip To Western Kansas”
Best cover: Sydney Jagels, “The Fun And Scary Forest”
Best Illustrator: Hannah Smith, “My Little Sister”
Honorable mention: Gauge Kellogg, “Scary Bear Story”
Honorable mention: Sydney Jagels, “The Fun And Scary Forest”

Fifth Grade
Teacher: Lindsey Cameron
Best representative: Jonah Carl, “The Mystery Of The Big House”
Best cover: Gage Gillett, “Prehistoric Dragons Return”
Best Illustrator: Blake Bulot, “The Bad Three Days”
Honorable mention: Jack Brooksher, “The Piece Of Gum”
Honorable mention: Peyton Houston, “The Attack Of Drupatron”

Teacher: Diane Deplue
Best representative: Cale Franklin, “An Outrageous Caribbean Cruise”
Best cover: Ally Bollinger, “The Mystery Of The Thief”
Best Illustrator: Cale Franklin, “An Outrageous Caribbean Cruise”
Honorable mention: Grace Temaat, “Believe In The Impossible”
Honorable mention: Lexi Merando, “My Cousin Josie”

Teacher: Cory Martin
Best representative: Chloe Gariglietti, “Backyard Adventures”
Best cover: Mason Jameson, “Mitch, The Boy Who Got Bullied”
Best Illustrator: Madison Miller, “The Hooligan Baby Is My Best Friend”
Honorable mention: Madison Stotts, “Paris”
Honorable mention: Riley Forrest, “Bob and Sally”

Teacher: Phyllis Smith
Best representative: Caroline McKnight, “The Runaway Sister”
Best cover: Will Sailing, “My Buds And I Driving Big Trucks”
Best Illustrator: Caroline McKnight, “The Runaway Sister”
Honorable mention: Madison Nighswonger, “The Scariest Haunted House”
Honorable mention: Aidan O’Hara, “The Adventures Of Bill The Bunny”