A small group of students at River Valley Intermediate School sat hunched over their notebooks at a table in the library, scribbling character profiles and chapter outlines.
Among them was Caleb Elizondo, who rested his forehead in his hand as he scoured his imagination for the next chapter of his story.
Elizondo, a fifth-grader, is writing a fictionalized account of the events at Fort McHenry, which was part of the Battle of Baltimore that inspired “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
“I like history,” Elizondo said. “I have a passion for it, and for being humorous about it.”
Elizondo and his classmates are writing their first novels as part of a special class developed by their instructor, Jonathan Reynolds. The children are pulled out of their regular schedules for an hour each week to work with Reynolds, who teaches them the finer points of producing a full novel.
Reynolds, a graduate of Midway High School and Baylor University, holds similar programs at Woodgate Intermediate and Lake Air Montessori.
Reynolds said the children’s projects are usually 12 to 25 chapters long and take a year to complete. He said the children write in a range of genres.
For example, while Elizondo worked on his historical fiction Wednesday, classmate Anna Johnston developed her story about a woman who is hit by a car and goes to heaven, but then tries to get back to her children on Earth.
Meanwhile, Callum Longenecker outlined characters for his story about a college student who gets trapped in a video game. Longenecker said Reynolds helped him learn more about storytelling and using his imagination.
“He’s taught me how to get the story in my mind onto the paper, and to catch the ideas,” he said.
Reynolds said one of his favorite stories he has read was from a student whose sister died. The student’s novel imagined what her sister’s life would have been like if she would have lived.
“It can be healing for some of the kids,” Reynolds said.
Reynolds is a published novelist himself, which is one reason he has success in helping students complete their stories.
Reynolds is the co-author of “Octobers,” a children’s book series that takes place in the town of Hobble, where it is always October. There are four books in the series, each told from the perspective of a different character.
Reynolds said the children he works with are a source of inspiration for his own work.
“It’s refreshing,” he said. “It’s good to meet with your audience and exchange ideas.”
Besides children’s books, Reynolds writes screenplays and fiction for adults. An animated short film he wrote called “Is There Anyone Out There?” recently was funded through a Kickstarter campaign.