Willa Crowley holds her newly printed book: Lilly Marshton.

A novelist in our midst

How many nine-year-olds know what Foxtail Barley Grass is? Willa Crowley does.

How many nine-year-olds know what Foxtail Barley Grass is?

Willa Crowley does, and when she was trying to come up with characters to be in a story she was writing, she wanted to pick something different, something little people could identify with.

While Willa said most authors tend to write about animals and people, she chose a blade of grass.

“We have lots of Foxtail Barley Grass,” she said, of her home on Tezzeron Lake in the John Prince Research Forest.

Starting from this small idea, Willa wrote an entire book called Lilly Marshton, about the adventures of Lilly, a piece of Foxtail Barley Grass.

The story was a project Willa completed as part of her language arts curriculum through home schooling.

Her mom, Valerie Crowley, gives Willa different options for projects to work on to fulfill her different curriculum requirements.

Valerie said she found the idea for the project on a homeschooling blog she follows and Willa chose the project.

The project was facilitated by the website for National Novel Writing Month nanowrimo.org, which is the site for an annual novel writing project which takes place every November, and there is a special section for young novelists.

For the month of October, the writer does preparatory work developing the story and naming the characters. Willa did this entirely on her own, and did not share any of her ideas with her mom.

For November, the writer then sets a word count goal to complete by the end of the month, and if he or she reaches the goal then a few copies of the book are even printed for free.

Well, Willa worked on her book, still without any help from her mom, writing a few pages each day she worked on it,   on about four days each week.

While she did not quite make her word count by the end of November, with a few delays due to trips to town and Prince George, she completed it by mid-December, and once it was written, she finally gave it to her mom Valerie to type into the computer for her.

What did her mom think when she finally had a chance to read the story?

“I thought it was adorable,” she said.

Valerie said she did not have to work hard to get Willa to complete the lengthy project, as she lets Willa pick the project-based learning for the year.

“She’s very self-motivated,” said Valerie.

After the writing was done, Valerie helped Willa with some editing and then with laying the book out on the computer, to which Willa added her own original art work to the cover.

The book, a copy of which Willa already donated to the Fort St. James Library, is a fun and charming story of adventure which shows creativity and imagination and a true love for nature.

Willa said she has learned to identify some of the plants and animals living in the John Prince Research Forest where her father Shannon Crowley is a wildlife biologist.

“I have a lot of interest in it and I hope to learn more,” she said.

The family first lived in the John Prince Research Forest when Shannon Crowley was working on his Masters in Biology at UNBC. They moved out east to Newfoundland and Labrador for two years to be closer to family in the eastern United States, but realized it was about the same cost to go home to visit family all the way from B.C. as it was from Newfoundland and Labrador due to the high costs of traveling in and out of those areas.

So they came back and resettled at the John Prince Research Forest once again.

“We loved it here,” said Valerie.

How does Willa feel about coming back and homeschooling instead of being in a classroom like she was out east?

“I think it’s really fun,” she said. “We have lots and lots of birds in the summer,” she said, going on to describe watching the swallows build their nests on the cabins and watching the young birds take their first flights.

She said the family also sees a lot of moose and bear, but in the winter they see more lynx and martin.

Willa said she thinks the research forest is a beautiful place and a nice home.

So why did she write her story about the John Prince Research Forest?

“I want (the reader) to think about the research forest and let them know that it’s out there,” she said. “It’s really special to me.”