For some, the pandemic lockdown was a chance to catch up on rest at home, but for a Grade 5 student in Burnaby, B.C., the unplanned quiet time was just the opportunity she needed to fulfil her dream of becoming an author.
Kiana Sosa, 10, said she wrote a book called Ellie and Lou and the Meaning of Friendship last year in Grade 4 for a classroom project. The story was then submitted to a local writing contest, thanks to the encouragement of her teacher, Livia Chan, and was chosen as one of the winning submissions to be included in an anthology.
“At first I really didn’t want to enter [the contest] because I wasn’t very sure about [the book],” Kiana said. “[But] then after I was really surprised when I found out I won.”
She said a celebration was planned earlier this year at Michael J Fox Theatre in Burnaby, but when the pandemic hit in March, the scheduled ceremony was also cancelled.
“I was really disappointed,” Kiana said, “especially because I wanted to eat the cake and get the goody bag.”
Doing ‘whatever it takes’
The book, which features two elephants as the main characters, is a tale about friendship, kindness, empathy and co-operation.
“Every time [Kiana] wrote [a story], I always looked forward to reading hers because there was always a message,” Chan said. “She just has a true talent for telling stories.”
In the spring, she was assigned to work on a passion project for school, which is when she first brought up the idea of wanting to publish her book.
“I was thinking about putting something together just for her and her class presentation,” Sosa’s mom, Karoline Urena, said, “but actually she said she wanted the book to be available for people to buy it.”
With no previous knowledge or experience in publishing a book, Urena said she knew it would “take a lot of work,” but she wanted to do “whatever it takes” to help her daughter.
After hours of online research and reaching out to different people, Kiana and her mom wrote out a step-by-step plan. Eventually, the two were able to find an editor and an illustrator to help make Kiana’s dream a reality.
“I wanted to know how it feels to have a book with my name on it,” Kiana said, adding that the pandemic and shift to online learning helped her find the time to work on the book.
Kiana’s self-published book has sold more than 500 paperback copies and had more than 1,000 e-book downloads on Amazon. Proceeds will be donated the International Conservation Fund of Canada.
A ‘bonding experience’
It wasn’t long after Kiana got her first book into print that Chan encouraged her to write the sequel, called Ellie and Lou: Gardeners of the Jungle.
“One of the things I love to do is just believe in my students until they believe in themselves,” Chan said. “Just the way she can use words to affect people is truly amazing for a 10-year-old.”
Kiana has been invited to do dozens of classroom readings through Zoom and talk to other elementary school students about her journey.
“I am very proud,” Urena said, “and this has been a bonding experience for the both of us … and I can see her getting more confident with every step.”
Kiana said she is already thinking about ideas for her next book.