When families gather for the holidays, it can be an opportunity to tell stories and pass on memories. For the St. Louis-based Grannie Annie Family Story Celebration, that provides a possible treasure trove for young people to build writing skills and forge strong family bonds.
Every year, The Grannie Annie publishes a volume of family stories written by students in the fourth to the eighth grade.
The stories can be serious or funny, about life-changing events from long ago, or everyday occurrences. The one requirement is that they be a story about something that happened to a family member before the author was born.
"Sometimes people think of family stories strictly as...the histories of where the family came from," said Connie McIntyre, founding executive director of The Grannie Annie. "But what we're looking at with The Grannie Annie is those stories that the family remembers and passes down and maybe cries over, but maybe laughs together over through the years, because those are all aspects of being a family together."
Two stories published in last year's volume show the range of stories included. "Remember Me" by Miles Bassett is a tale of the grit and gumption of his great-grandmother Gertrude set in Warsaw, Poland and New York City from 1926 to 1928.
He wrote the story as a fifth grader in Katie Monahan's class at Conway Elementary.
Belle Gage's story "Toyota Tercel Trouble" tells a more recent and light-hearted story about her father's efforts to be environmentally friendly. She was a fourth-grader in the Clayton School district when she wrote the story.
Beyond preserving family history, The Grannie Annie project seeks to give students an opportunity to hone their writing skills and find a sense of pride in their work.
"We've heard from some teachers that The Grannie Annie project gives students an opportunity to shine that might not otherwise have had the opportunity," said Fran Hamilton, founding associate director of The Grannie Annie. "Just the idea that they've been published authors or published illustrators can be very important to them."
Martha Stegmaier, director of the St. Louis Public Schools/Springboard Partnership, agreed.
"When students know who will be reading their writing, it makes all the difference in the world," said Stegmaier. "And to see the effect of their writing on those who read it is really a lesson that I think stays with them for the rest of their life. That what they have to say is powerful. That they have the power to connect with people, to change minds, to delight, to entertain. And to also make history come alive."
So far the organization has published eight volumes of stories, one for each year they've sought submissions. The Grannie Annie partners with Springboard St. Louis to promote the project in St. Louis area schools, but submissions are welcomed from homeschoolers and children all around the world. The submission deadline for next year's volume is February 1. Guidelines and the submission form are available on The Grannie Annie website.