HERMISTON - Writing a kids book for elementary schoolers who could care less about reading is not child's play.
This was the ambition of Carolyn Ashcraft.
She made a career out of helping young and old write and read better, but the 58-year-old Hermiston resident hasn't always considered herself a writer, the newly minted author explained earlier this week.
"Now it was time for me," she said.
A retired school teacher who spent more than 25 years in the classroom, Ashcraft wanted to prove a point to her granddaughter, Alexis: Writing isn't just something you do when a teacher wants you to. It can be fun.
A similar lesson is learned by the hero of "Hamlet Goes to School," Ashcraft's first children's novel - and likely not her last - set in a Hermiston-like community and centered around the seemingly everyday life of Kirby Piper, a fourth-grader whose "hatred" of books runs contrary to the importance his family places on reading. Kirby comes to see his distaste for all things literary as a curse, especially in light of his precocious little sister's love affair with "Sleeping Beauty."
One day Kirby receives a brown hamster named Hamlet in the mail from Uncle Louie in Alaska. The purpose of the gift is to help Kirby with his reading, a note explains without specifics. His mother is allergic so an arrangement is made to bring Hamlet to school and keep him in a cage beside Kirby's desk.
With a few bites on his ear for encouragement, Kirby ever-so-slowly overcomes his aversion to books with the help of Hamlet, who Kirby's teacher allows him to hold during reading time in class. After a series of daring escapes by Hamlet and a high-stakes reading contest at school, Kirby sheds his book-hating past.
"I wanted Kirby to be compassionate," Ashcraft said. "But I didn't want him to be Polyanna."
Kirby gets frustrated with his little sister, threatens a friend for teasing him and has a general distaste for one Lila Smithers, a know-it-all classmate whose family shops at the name-brand stores and lets everybody know.
Ashcraft wrote him to be sympathetic to the average fourth-grader, suspicious of books and grown-up ploys to trick them into reading.
"He gets mad, they shove each other, but that's what playgrounds are like. I've been there," Ashcraft said.
She took small details from her own experiences to create Kirby's elementary school, from the mundane plot points like the corridors and classrooms of West Park elementary, to the Marine Corps gym teacher who browbeat her as a girl in Downstate Illinois.
About 200 copies have been sold so far, Ashcraft said, and already her granddaughter is giving her notes on where the story should go next.
Although she started out writing for her own enjoyment, and for her granddaughter, the thrill of making a connection with children like Kirby may keep her busy at the keyboard.
"One little girl said she couldn't put it down, and she wasn't even related to me," Ashcraft said.