Novel begun here by fifth-grader lands on children's best-seller list
Friday, February 02, 2007
By Diana LaMattina Staff writer
After awaking from a dream about a giant white bird mediating warring factions of birds in the forest, Nancy Yi Fan began to write.
Writing only after school, on weekends and summer vacation, the then fifth-grader at Onondaga Road Elementary School in Fairmount created an adventure told using personified birds.
The resulting novel, "Swordbird," debuted this week at No. 10 on the New York Times' list for children's best-sellers.
And Fan, now 13, returned to the school where the teachers read a partial rough draft in 2003-2004 and encouraged her love of writing.
"It was the most extraordinary writing I've ever seen out of a 10-year-old," said Judy Allen, who teaches gifted students. "She had an amazing sort of perspective on issues of peace and conflict."
West Genesee School District's parent-teacher associations provided a stipend and expenses for Fan to take a side trip on her national book tour.
The story of how she went from a bright fifth-grader to a published author illustrates a combination of talent, hard work and perhaps a bit of luck that the PTA thinks can be an inspiration to other youngsters.
After returning to China where she had lived until age 7, Fan wrote publishers but was rejected for reasons varying from her being too young to the book not being the sort they wanted.
Her break came in 2005 when she e-mailed Jane Friedman, president of HarperCollins, and included a copy of the finished story.
It was at a time when HarperCollins partnered with People's Literature Publishing House to sell translated classics and novels in China.
Editorial director Phoebe Yeh read the manuscript of the animal-fantasy novel and she said she knew Fan deserved a chance to be published.
"It almost never happens," Yeh said. "It's a novel. Normally, children publish poetry and short stories. It's almost unfathomable."
Yeh and Fan worked via e-mail on revisions during her summer vacation, on weekends and after finishing homework.
"When I got to know her (Fan) better and got to understand how she researched to improve her writing, I felt even more certain (that she deserved to be published)," Yeh said.
To learn more about birds and their ways, Fan would walk in the woods and record their movements. When Fan would have a vision of what the bird-characters would do, she drew it out and then tried to describe it in words.
To write more detailed descriptions of sword fights, Fan signed up with a local coach to learn about sword movements.
"I leaped about, acting what the characters were doing, as quietly as I could," Fan said during her Camillus visit.
The book is being released officially this week in the United States and the 50-plus countries of the British Commonwealth. Fan taped an episode of the Martha Stewart show tentatively set for Feb. 12.
Fan translated the entire text into Chinese, her first language, for its upcoming release in China.
"Her parents thought it would be a good way for her to keep up with her Chinese," Yeh said.
The book, geared for readers between 8 and 12 years old, is a story about a tribe of hawks attacking cardinals and blue jays, who fight back and search for a magic stone that will summon Swordbird to defeat the evil hawk lord.
It's an adventure tale, filled with witty and childlike tricks used to defeat evil. Fan manages to keep the novel kid-friendly while dealing with peace, faith, teamwork and compassion.
She is already working on "Quest," a prequel, which tells of how Wind-Voice became the mythical bird that can help conquer evil and restore peace. It may be out as soon as 2009.
Diana LaMattina can be reached at 470-3130 or firstname.lastname@example.org.