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Elise Westphal, 9, center, talks about her latest book during an informal book club meeting in the library of Sequoia Elementary School in Pleasant Hill, Calif. on Friday, Jan. 25, 2013. Teacher Brenda Allen-Stokes is writing a book which has motivated 9-year-olds to write their own books complete with illustrations. (Dan Honda/Staff)

Michelle Toyama has been daydreaming about character names and adventure-filled plot lines for the stories she writes.

Gabriella Pinky Gumdrop is one such protagonist who discovers a secret button under her teacher's desk that becomes a portal for the young writer's boundless imagination.

Meanwhile, Michelle's classmate at Sequoia Elementary School has conjured up a Candy Island where the people are made out of sweet confections.

Lately, a special education assistant in the Mt. Diablo School District has been injecting a delectable dose of creativity into Laura Clack's fourth-grade classroom.

A few months ago, Brenda Allen-Stokes had observed Michelle's artistic talents and asked if she wanted to illustrate a children's book. The pair commenced writing and illustrating a book on bi-folded printer paper and other students joined in, creating their own comic books and such stories about magical lands and dolphins.

Stokes soon started a book club in the room. A dozen children meet weekly to discuss their ideas and offer encouragement to each other -- including Stokes, who is writing a book of her own.

"They're motivating me to keep it up, trying to make my dream come true," says the Martinez resident.

"They're (writing) every chance they can get. They're nonstop engines that are on fire," she adds.


Hannah Kim, 10, credits Stokes with igniting that inspiration that led her to create a character who finds herself pulled into the plot of a book she finds in the library.

"There's no instruction. It's your thing. I just felt free," Hannah says.

Their creative endeavors have had a positive impact on the writing they do in class. Daily journaling goes well beyond the requisite few sentences; their vocabulary is ever expanding, and they are working collaboratively.

"By writing these books, it's allowed them to think outside the box, beyond one or two sentences. They've been able to stretch that into details and colorful ideas," says Clack.

"(Brenda) has been a very good role model. She has such a positive outlook and the kids just feed off of that," she adds. "A lot of our kids are high achievers and they thrive on new challenges. These books are a way to display their hard work, their love of writing and illustrating."

Walnut Creek resident Lisa Westphal has seen how the book club has reignited her daughter Elise's interest in writing, piquing her curiosity about authors' creative processes.

"It's her sense of excitement about it. She's taken on this whole new adventure," Westphal says.

For Elise, the inspiration came after her mom shared an article she had read about a blind dachshund. Her book takes the dog and her owner on various journeys.

And, Stokes has propelled such quests, with Elise referring to her as being "the right amount of serious."

"She doesn't pound you to write," she says. "You write when you want to write."