Hi. I’m Walking Bob, and the subject of this article was closer to my own home than any of the other eighty articles I have written for Davis Life Magazine. Sharyn Leith suggested that I walk over to Korematsu School to meet one of Davis’ newest authors, Nikki Shannon Smith. Nikki’s first book, The Little Christmas Elf, was published last year by a publisher who I fondly remember from my own childhood, Little Golden Books. I interviewed her and got a chance to spend some time watching her teach as well.
The uplifting story tells about a persistent little elf in her first year working to create toys for Christmas. Smith will be a featured speaker at the Spring Spirit Conference of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) on April 21 at the Sunset Center in Rocklin in case you’re not one of her fourth grade students and you’d like to meet an interesting local author.
Nikki has been working with children since she was a teenager working with preschool kids, and she has been a teacher for almost twenty years, first in her native Oakland, then at Valley Oak School in Davis and now at Korematsu. She currently teaches fourth grade and has also filled in as principal. As a long-time teacher and administrator myself, it’s always been my belief that only outstanding teachers should aspire to be principals, but for now Nikki Shannon Smith truly loves teaching in a classroom
I saw her lead a lesson on a book called “Adelita” by Tomie dePaola that is one of several different versions of the Cinderella story. Each story is told through the lens of a different culture or country around the world. As she read the story, with enthusiasm, she asked students questions that got them to compare this story with several others they had already read. They looked for common themes, and for things that made each story unique. The class was totally involved throughout the well-planned lesson.
Nikki has been writing for years, but until recently it was her own two children, not her students, who got to hear her stories. She had written the first draft of the elf story for an SCBWI critique group in 2007. When she did finally share The Little Christmas Elf with a class, one of her students said, “I could see it in my head, like a movie,” and Nikki knew that this might be the story that would get into print, which it did on September 13, 2011. As she loves to tell her students, persistence pays off.
The Avid Reader, which will soon be expanding its children’s book section in the former site of Alphabet Moon, still has a few autographed copies of her first book. In September 2012, it will appear as one of five featured books in a collection to be called Favorite Little Golden Books for Christmas. Nikki is working on several follow-up possibilities including picture books, early chapter books and a Young Adult novel. You can learn more at her website or on her Facebook page.