WEST CHESTER TWP., Ohio -- Kellen Montgomery is using his own experiences to help his fellow students.
Kellen, a fourth-grader at Endeavor Elementary in West Chester Township, recently shared with his schoolmates the first book in a reality series he co-authored with his mother, Dee Montgomery.
When the duo took the first steps toward creating the series a little more than a year ago, Kellen wasn’t a big fan of reading and writing.
“Kellen is one of those kids who loves math and science … but one day he looked at me and said, ‘Mom, I want to let you know I really hate reading, and I hate writing,’” Dee Montgomery said.
The words were difficult to hear for the mother of three, who is passionate about the subjects.
“I come from a family where literacy and education are very important,” she said.
Hoping to help engage her son in reading and writing, she started writing on a paper towel one day. When Kellen asked what she was doing, she showed him what she had written. In response, he began critiquing her work.
“He immediately started editing me,” Dee said.
Along with his criticism, Kellen offered a suggestion that came across as both praise and challenge.
“He looked at me and challenged me and said these are really good. They could help a lot of kids,” Dee said.
She took his words to heart, and together they set to the task of writing their first three books, “NOT Invited,” “A Jealous Friend,” and “The Happy Memory Tree.”
They covered tough issues, including exclusion, jealousy and grief. Some of Kellen’s own experiences helped inspire the storylines.
“I wanted to help people, and this way it seems like a good way to,” Kellen said.
“NOT Invited,” which was released in October, draws on Kellen's experience of being informally invited to a birthday party that turned out to be only the wishful thought of another child. When Kellen showed up at the supposed party and no one was there, he felt tricked and left out.
The emotions he felt led him to share a semi-autobiographical account of the experience – and a solution for dealing with it – through the story.
“I didn’t want people to feel like they were being left out,” Kellen said.
He already has shared the book with his fellow students.
“The first time I read ‘NOT Invited,’ the first thing I thought was every kid should read this book,” said Endeavor Elementary Principal Joanna Sears.
The school hosted a read-in, during which Kellen and his mother shared the book with fourth-graders, and fifth- and sixth-graders read it to second- and third-graders, respectively.
The books don’t rely solely on Kellen’s perspective; he and Dee run everything by local and national advisory boards of children and adults. They offer input on everything from illustrations to font size and even the type of paper the books are printed on.
“To them, it’s very real, and it’s very urgent,” Dee said. “And I want them to know that we’re listening, and we want to help find solutions that work for them.”
She, Kellen and illustrator Elsie Mort are in the process of revising “A Jealous Friend,” which is based on recommendations from the advisory boards. Once revisions are complete, they’ll go through a second round of feedback before the book is published.
The mother-son duo doesn’t plan to stop writing any time soon. They have 32 topics approved by the advisory boards and expect to start on a second series after publishing “The Happy Memory Tree.”
The books have not only had a potential impact on the lives of advisory board members and readers; they’ve changed the perspective of their co-author.
“He looks at it in a whole different light,” Dee Montgomery said.
While Kellen still doesn’t approach every reading assignment with enthusiasm, getting him to do the work is less challenging than it used to be, she said.
“He looked at me about four months ago, and he said, ‘Mom, it’s not that I hate reading and writing. I just want to create and write things that make sense and that can help me,’” she said.