WORDS: Kara Chalmers
PICTURES: Whitney Patton
E’yannie Gomez loves to write – she always has. In fourth grade at Samoset Elementary School in Bradenton, language arts is a favorite subject because it allows time for E’yannie, 11, to focus on her passion.
Last year, in third grade, when her class had free time and most other students headed straight to the computers to play games, E’yannie – who was enrolled in the Early Learning Coalition of Manatee County’s VPK program back in 2012/13 – picked up her pencil and got to work. “Writing time is one of the best times of the day,” E’yannie said. “I like writing real stories but sometimes I write fake stories, just for fun.”
Last year, when E’yannie was 10, she and her mother Shantia Benson co-authored a 21-page book and had it published. Called The Crazy World of Alexa, the book is a compilation of five short stories, most of them inspired by E’yannie’s life with her mom, her sister Za’rayah, age 5, and her brother Na’zaire, 10 months.
“I had a little blue notebook and I showed my mom and she said, ‘Write a book that’s going to mean something,’” E’yannie said. So E’yannie based the main character, Alexa, on herself, and wrote the stories in first-person. She chose the names Zoey and Jayden for the characters based on her sister and brother, respectively.
The stories are about important moments in E’yannie’s life. For example, The Weird Bump captures Alexa’s excitement after learning – in a special way – that she would soon have a baby brother. Another story details a great day the family spent at a water park. The Mystery Lady is about Zoey being afraid of a strange figure she swears she sees during the night while sharing a bedroom with Alexa.
Lots of the stories offer glimpses into the life of a sister, specifically how trying it can be at times to be the eldest in a family. In Poop War, sisters Zoey and Alexa bicker over who is going to help their mom by throwing Jayden’s dirty diaper in the trash. Mom makes the call – it’s Zoey’s turn. But Zoey gets the last laugh. E’yannie writes:
‘Zoey grabs the diaper and with a devilish look in her eyes, she turns to me and SMACK, she popped me right in the face with the poopie diaper. Sorry mom, it’s war.’
The conflicts in these stories – which sister tripped the other on the stairs, who is copying, who is tattling – are relatable. But so are the many touching examples of the special bond that only siblings understand: Alexa calling Jayden the “best surprise this year,” and holding a nervous Zoey’s hand atop a super high waterslide.
Dealing with Bullies
Of the five short stories, the last one, The Bully Twins, is perhaps the most important to E’yannie. The story is inspired by real-life events that occurred when E’yannie was nine and was nervous about making friends in a new after-school day care program. It tells how Alexa dealt with being tormented by a set of twins, girls who excluded Alexa and called her names including “Fatty-Patty”, on her first day at a new school. E’yannie writes:
‘Every person I tried to play with here at the new school, the bully twins told them not to be my friend. I ran into the bathroom and I started to cry. I had no one to play with.’
In the story, Alexa ends up telling her teacher, after which half of the kids in the class then admit that the twins were bullying them, as well. In real life, E’yannie’s mother brought the actual bullying incident to the attention of the day care director. “It was rough,” Shantia Benson said. “But I told [E’yannie], ‘You can’t care what anyone thinks. You’ve got to know you’re beautiful.’”
Referring to why she wrote her book, E’yannie said: “I wanted to write my own book to show all the other kids how I feel and what I’m going through. “About the story The Bully Twins, she said, “I want to tell kids who are being bullied to speak up. Bullying is kind of a serious issue these days. [The book] is for showing other kids how to speak up.”
Just like in the story, when E’yannie fled to the bathroom to cry, she too soon heard Za’rayah’s small voice from outside the door asking, “Are you ok?” E’yannie writes:
‘I opened the door and there stood my little sister. I’ve never been so happy to see Zoey. There’s nothing better than family.’
Just like with Alexa, the bullying experience taught E’yannie that no matter how tough a sibling can be, no one is better at having your back.
A Driven, Dauntless Defender
After meeting E’yannie, it’s apparent she’s confident and funny. Her mom Shantia Benson describes her as a creative, lovable girl with a great imagination. She’s an observer of the world around her and is comfortable speaking freely about her feelings and experiences – both the good and the bad.
These qualities are important for anyone planning to be a writer. She’s proud of herself, as she should be, for her writing accomplishments. “E’yannie is definitely a natural-born leader,” said Gabrielle Baggetta, E’yannie’s fourth grade reading and writing teacher at Samoset.
According to Baggetta, E’yannie knows how to stand up for herself, but she is good at standing up for others too, if she perceives an injustice. E’yannie is quick to volunteer to help, whether by assisting Baggetta with tasks, or by encouraging a student who’s struggling with classwork.
“She’s really into making sure people get what they need,” Baggetta said. “She’s an asset to the classroom.” For example, when a new student came to Samoset this year, not surprisingly, E’yannie volunteered to show the student around their classroom and around the school.
“She likes to make sure people feel included,” Baggetta said. “She likes helping people not feel lost.”
In the fourth grade, writing gets more technical – and difficult – than ever before, Baggetta said, but E’yannie has risen to the challenge.
“She can take an idea and run with it,” Baggetta said. She added that if E’yannie gets frustrated, she always pushes through. She’s definitely a problem solver with her writing,” Baggetta said. “She’s a great writer now, but she knows she can always get better. So, she keeps pushing.”
How to Get the Book
You can purchase E’yannie’s book and its accompanying coloring book on Amazon.com. The Crazy World of Alexa paperback costs $15 and the kindle version costs $10. The Crazy World of Alexa: Coloring Book is available for $10.
E’yannie is considering writing a second book, with more stories of her life with her family, possibly this time including her grandmother and uncle as characters. Na’zaire, who in the first book as a newborn was basically relegated to crying and filling diapers, might play a larger role now that he is mobile, smiley and gets excited every time E’yannie enters the room.