Author Uses a Little Magic to Reach Children With Literacy

author charles campbell

Charles Campbell

June 25, 2009

BY ERIKA A. MCCARDEN

CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Author Charles Campbell says his life mission is to help children in urban communities to realize and value their self-worth. He accomplishes his mission through reading literature and creative writing.
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“Children today are acting out because they can’t read and write,” said Campbell, author of the children’s fantasy trilogy, “The Magic Coin.” “They have a talent for song and dance, but that’s something that goes back to slavery when we were denied to read and write.”

The longtime teacher introduced “The Magic Coin” series after failing to reach a group of students in creative writing at a Savannah, Ga., elementary school where he taught.

“I was teaching fourth- and fifth-grade students. The kids weren’t getting it. They could barely write a sentence, and didn’t know how to write a basic five-paragraph essay,” Campbell said. “They got so frustrated; I threw away my lesson plan.

“To get their attention I told this fake story about a boy who found a gold coin in his pants and how it magically turned into fire. What I noticed was how their eyes widened. They wanted to know what happened next. They enjoyed the storytelling.”

That was nine years ago. Campbell has since launched Black Butterfly Inc. to enrich the lives and self-esteem of urban communities through literature.

He also turned the impromptu story he told in class that day into the self-published “The Magic Coin” trilogy, which has managed to help more than 200 youths with creative writing and literary analysis. Under Campbell’s leadership, Black Butterfly operates with a staff of four: two illustrators, a creative consultant, and an educator and Spanish translator.

“We’ve rarely seen African Americans or Hispanics as the central protagonist in a fantasy novel. And if you don’t see yourself in a book, it’s not as exciting,” Campbell said. “I decided to use fantasy as an educational tool to teach the basic tools of creative writing and encourage children in urban communities to step out of their comfort zones.”

The first novel in “The Magic Coin” trilogy is being used as a reading component in Los Angeles-area schools and Savannah. It is featured as the primary reading tool in Campbell’s Reading, Writing and Conflict Resolution Power Workshops. Campbell conducts his workshops at local schools to help students with creative writing and literature training, tutoring and mentoring in self-esteem enhancement. The second and third books of the trilogy are expected to be released in 2010.

“I learned that most kids, no matter what school they attend, do not like writing. Many teachers use writing as a disciplinary tool and it becomes associated with something negative, and a psychological issue,” Campbell said. “Like some teachers might have a student write sentences ‘x’ amount of times just for chewing gum. In short, children associate writing to being punished. Writing should be something fun and enjoyable.”

The schools that order Campbell’s books for their creative writing curriculum are provided with his literary power workshops free of charge, and they are arranged daily, weekly or bi-weekly, based upon the school’s need and structure. Campbell said it usually takes about a year to get through “The Magic Coin” and its lecture series because the workshop is woven into a school day or after school program.

“His books are phenomenal and the kids and parents love them,” Jacqueline Sanderlin, principal of GeorgeWashington Carver Elementary School in Compton, said in an e-mail, adding the school purchases the books for their fourth- and fifth-grade students.

She said the students’ reading scores have doubled and their writing has greatly improved.

“This has been an effective intervention for our scholars who are reading about a young, black hero,” she said. “His discussions have a lot of engagement, excitement and interaction. I find that the students exemplify the behavior of the characters in their daily lives.”

Campbell’s literary power workshops include sentence construction; fundamentals of essay writing; spelling punctuation; literary analysis; penmanship; fantasy writing exercises; writing competitions; listening and public speaking skills; and a special exercise that he refers to as peacekeeping, which essentially is conflict resolution.

“My passion is with helping kids to increase literacy levels in reading, writing and self-esteem,” Campbell said. “I hope kids who see an out through soaring on the b-ball court or in a hip-hop video, might soar through a love for reading and writing. The mind is a terrible thing to waste.”

For more information about Campbell’s Reading, Writing and Conflict Resolution Power Workshops, call (323) 216-4772.

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