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story.lead_photo.caption The Perfect Summer is Pulaski Academy sixth-grader Gabrielle Simone’s second book. She wrote the story “Too Big for Teacups” in the three-story collection. ( John Sykes Jr.)

Gabrielle Simone says her first published story "just came to life."

Photo by John Sykes Jr.
At the age of 12, Pulaski Academy sixth-grader Gabrielle Simone is the co-author of two books, including The Perfect Summer. Gabrielle will appear Saturday at the 13th annual Arkansas Literary Festival.
Photo by John Sykes Jr.
Pulaski Academy sixth-grader and published author Gabrielle Simone.

That's how the 12-year-old Pulaski Academy sixth-grader describes the flash of inspiration that prompted her to write "Kylie: The Smallest Elf."

"I had recently been watching a Christmas movie and I felt all jolly," she says. "Have you ever just had that feeling where you are all joyful and you just love Christmas?"

With this question, Gabrielle, who is sitting in a middle school classroom at the Little Rock school in late March, throws her arms in the air. Her voice rises as the question reaches its conclusion. Her effusiveness is contagious. She's genuinely excited again thinking about the original revelation that started her published writing career.

"Kylie" was Gabrielle's contribution to the three-story collection The Perfect Present, which was published in December 2014. The other two stories in the book were written by Morgan Billingsley and Jackie Lee, two out-of-state child authors.

In May 2015, Gabrielle returned with another book co-written by Morgan and Jackie. Gabrielle's story, titled "Too Big for Teacups," in the three-story The Perfect Summer, is about a 13-year-old who thinks she's too old for a Disney family vacation.

Both books are published by Brown Girls Books, a boutique publishing company based in Houston and Washington.

The trio are working on a new book, The Perfect Teacher. Gabrielle isn't giving away too much of her story's plot but allows the story is about one of her teachers. He's kind of "random" at first but soon the students start loving him.

With two books published and a third on the way, Gabrielle's burgeoning writing career has already earned her praise from teachers, relatives and other adults. And her talents have merited her an appearance at the 13th annual Arkansas Literary Festival on Saturday (with Morgan and Jackie joining by Skype).

Celia Anderson, Gabrielle's mother, saw her daughter's talent emerging early.

"I realized she had the ability to reason and understand very, very early on," Anderson says. "She just kind of got it. I also noticed that she was a reader. She likes to read. So, when you have the ability to reason and empathize with people who are not necessarily like you or have a story that you don't have, and you have the ability to read, all of those things make a great writer."

Anderson, who is director of national accounts with the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau, is not just playing the part of the proud mamma when talking about Gabrielle. She's a writer, too.

A Hall High School graduate, Anderson has released two novels and contributed to an anthology.

Her 100 Things to Do in Little Rock Before You Die -- a project "near and dear to [her] heart" -- will be published later this year, she said.

And Anderson, who played basketball at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, was a line editor and personal assistant for six years to E. Lynn Harris, an award-winning Arkansas author of black fiction who died in 2009 at the age of 54.

"My goal for her has always been that she is going to be better than me," Anderson says of Gabrielle. "She is well beyond her years when it comes to writing. Sometimes she writes things and I think: Did this really just come from a 12-year-old?"

Gabrielle says she was inspired to write by her mother. "My mom is always writing and spending a lot of time on it. She seemed like she really enjoyed it so I took a shot at it."

Encouragement also came from Gabrielle's grandmother, Sarah Hinton, who goes by "Fefe" because "I didn't want to be called 'grandmother,'" Hinton says.

Painting and drawing have always made Gabrielle happy, along with writing. But it wasn't until her mother met ReShonda Tate Billingsley, the CEO of Brown Girls Publishing and Morgan's mother, that Gabrielle's publishing career came into being.

As Gabrielle tells it, Billingsley was looking for someone to help on The Perfect Present, but the story had to be a Christmas story, and "it just so happens I had written a Christmas story. Things just worked out."

Since then, Gabrielle has written a lot more stories, even a few comics. And there are poems, too.

Her writing process is pretty simple, Gabrielle says. Or not.

"I end up with an idea and I usually write it down," she says. "Then I get the parts I need to make up a story and then I have all these outlines in my head but never use any of them. I use others I recently thought of, and I just write it down and make a story. I usually write at night."

Like her mother, Gabrielle also possesses eye-catching athletic talent, playing basketball and soccer (Anderson says Gabrielle is a "beast on the soccer field").

Even at 12, Gabrielle is already thinking about college and a career and how her love of writing fits into the future.

She's thinking Duke University is the school for her right now. It used to be Stanford University, but Gabrielle changed her mind mainly because of basketball. Plus, she's a preteen and preteens change their minds.

She has also thought about a medical career but doesn't care for blood. And then being a lawyer is also a possibility. Although, as Gabrielle says, the cases take too long and "if I don't get it right, I lose all the money."

She's only 12, though, so all these decisions are a few years down the road. Right now, she's enjoying this writing thing.

"I always like being more responsible than I'm supposed to be," she says. "Like, I'm 12, and I have two books. I mean, that's better than I'm supposed to be doing."

Family on 04/13/2016

Print Headline: Published preteen; Sixth-grader, 12, is a writer; it’s in her genes


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