Cooper Knight might be a professional soccer player when he grows up.
Or he might be a doctor. He hasn't decided.
I rather hope he decides to become a writer. He already has the necessary passion.
This summer Cooper filled two journals with his observations, an assignment based on Lucy Calkins' “Raising Lifelong Learners.” A rising fifth grader at Trinity Episcopal School in Charlotte, Cooper kept mementos and notes in his journals. At the ripe old age of 11, he already knows that writing non-fiction essays is great fun.
He didn't always enjoy writing. Back when he was just a kid in the third grade, he hated writing. Then last year his teachers encouraged him to write stories about his life – and his essay about the tedium of Sundays remains a family favorite.
Journaling has become so important to Cooper that he filled up one old-fashioned black-and-white-marbled notebook with sewn pages and started a second one. He wrote about his dog, his brothers, his plans for the family vacation, his hope for a real grown-up watch for his birthday. He clipped movie ads and pasted movie tickets in his journal and wrote a blow-by-blow description of the G. I. Joe movie that he and his twin brother Charlie saw for their birthday in July.
Cooper carried his journal with him as his mother Sally and his younger brothers flew to a family vacation in New York City in August. The week would be filled with taking pictures at the zoo, going to museums, and visiting with cousins, and Cooper wanted to make sure he put his thoughts in his journal.
On the plane, Cooper slipped the journal into the seat pocket near his knees and settled into listening to music. When his family disembarked in New York, he left his journal behind.
Cooper isn't sure when he realized his mistake. He may have missed his journal while he was in the taxi in New York. He may have noticed later that night in his room. What he does remember – and what his mother remembers as well – is Cooper's distress.
To understand what happened next, you have to know that Polly Adkins hates to fly. Polly is a French teacher at my school, and she is also a gifted actress and director who is active in Charlotte's theater community. She spent several weeks this summer in New York City as the assistant director of “Victoria and Frederick for President,” Create Carolina's entry in the FringeNYC Festival. The day before our school year began, Polly flew home.
As the plane began its headlong rush down the runway, Polly looked around for something to keep her mind off the landscape hurtling past. She stuck her hand in the seat pocket and pulled out an old-fashioned black-and-white-marbled-sewn-page notebook.
For 800 miles Polly read Cooper's journal. By the time she landed in Charlotte, she felt like she had seen the G. I. Joe movie for real.
She also felt like she had seen a glimpse of Cooper's soul.
The airline officials were sympathetic but discouraging when Polly tried to turn the journal in at the lost-and-found. Don't leave it here, they warned. It will get lost for good.
So Polly kept it and trawled through it for a hint of how to reunite the journal with its writer.
And there it was – in the back of the journal, Cooper had slipped a piece of paper with an email from his dad. The email was full of the kind of encouragement every child needs – praise for his writing, enthusiasm for his self-discipline. It also gave Polly a place to start.
Polly sent a note to the email address and waited to see if anyone would answer. In the meantime she told a group of teachers at lunch about the remarkable journal and the gifted young writer who had poured so much of himself into it. Publicly we hoped that Polly would hear back from Cooper and his parents; privately we hoped that our own students would share Cooper's passion for the written word.
“Cooper loves to write,” Sally Knight told me after she described Cooper's joy when his journal was returned this week. “He will write me a note that says, Can I have waffles for breakfast, yes or no?”
What a smart kid. Get that commitment in writing.
Cooper Knight will make a great writer some day. Unless, of course, he decides to play professional soccer. Or go to medical school.