What does it take to get your child to write?
Khalia McCray fell in love with writing in first grade. Now the sixth-grader is a published author.
“My first-grade teacher would make us write about something every day, using five sentences. Sometimes it had to be about me. Sometimes it had to be about something I liked, didn’t like or experienced,” she said. “Either way, it made me fall in love with writing. It gave me the opportunity to share me with others.”
Her mother took it a step further and encouraged her daughter to journal in a diary at home. “She was writing all the time,” said Tiyahri Wilson, a self-described “Momprenuer” because she said her children’s projects keep her busy.
“Letters to My Loved Ones” is the first of many books Khalia said she hopes to publish and one that she hopes will inspire others, especially young girls, to write. Her pen name is Khalia Madison. She has a website, khaliamadison.org, that describes her as an “author, blogger, friend” and opens with the words: “Writing rocks.”
Khalia said that while she sometimes struggles for words when she is speaking, she finds it easier to express herself in writing.
“Writing is not a punishment. Writing is actually a good way to express your thoughts and feelings,” she said. “Writing is an exercise and it can get your brain flowing with ideas.”
The 50-page, self-published book includes letters she has written to family members and friends. It also includes tips to help young writers and blank pages to invite readers to jot down their thoughts. (No “send” button required, as she writes on her website.)
“I wanted to pour my heart out to my family and tell them how much I love them,” Khalia said. “And I want to inspire kids to write. I want them to realize that you can feel the same love for my family as I do and learn that writing is a tool to use your voice to speak out.”
The idea for the book was Khalia’s, but her mother has been an inspiring force.
“If Khalia had difficulty saying something to me, sometimes I’d come home and she’d have a letter on my pillow,” Wilson said. “They were powerful. I told her, ‘You should publish your letters, they are so amazing.’ So we put together a strategy and we said, we can do this. We started a process and here we are.”
Khalia and her mother worked on the book project for three months.
Khalia turns 12 on Sept. 14. Instead of a birthday party, she will be holding a book launch starting at 1 p.m. Sept. 16 at the St. Martin Library. Instead of gifts, guests are asked to buy a copy of the book. The books will sell for $9.99.
Wilson said their goal is to use some of the proceeds to help Khalia hold workshops to inspire other young girls to write.
“I’m glad that she was willing to share her letters openly,” Wilson said. “You can feel the sincerity and the love in her letters.”
‘From my heart’
Khalia said one of her favorite letters in the book is one she wrote to her mother. “I told her how much I love her,” she said, “how she meant the world to me.”
Khalia also writes letters to her 13-year-old sister, Kayla. One letter, in part, tells her: “You are the best sister in the whole wide world. I will always love you with my whole heart. I know that we don’t get along with each other all of the time, but you will always be my best friend.”
Both girls attend D’Iberville Middle School.
Principal Matthew Elias said he hopes Khalia has a great turnout for her book launch. He said he has notified teachers and plans to post fliers with hope that many of the school’s 950 students will attend. “This venture at such a young age is something to be proud of,” he said. “The school is proud of her and she’s setting a great example for our school.”
Kayla, an eighth-grader, also is working on a project to launch a nonprofit called Bundles for Bouncing Babies. “This child loves babies,” her mother said, “and I wanted to help her find a way to do something positive with that passion.” Kayla intends to raise money to buy items to donate once a month to babies up to age 2 who are in the care of the state’s Department of Human Services.
Another of Khalia’s letters refers to Kayla’s love for babies and for her. “I remember when momma told us that when I was a baby, you used to try to help take care of me. You loved me so much because you knew that I was your baby sister. Thank you for supporting me and the good things I do and I’ll try to do it back.”
Khalia said she is looking forward to seeing people read her book.
“It is special to me,” Khalia said, “not just because it is my first book, but because I share letters from my heart.”
About the series
Our Kind of People is a feature in the Sun Herald and at SunHerald.com that spotlights South Mississippi people whose life or work is an inspiration to others.
What: “Letters to My Loved Ones,” by Khalia Madison
Where: St. Martin Library, 15004 Lemoyne Blvd., Biloxi
When: 1 p.m. Sept. 16