On Saturday, as parents and total strangers sat quietly at Copperfield’s Books at Bel Aire Plaza, 9-year-old Julian Levin stood up to read from his action-filled novel, “Gold Rush,” a story about three guys who set out to strike it rich by going gold mining.
Julian was one of eight young authors who took turns reading pages from their books at the bookstore. The event was part of the Napa Valley Writing Project, a program started last October at Vichy Elementary School. Laila Aghaie, a volunteer and the mother of two students at Vichy, organized the after-school program to encourage budding young writers to type up a storm and publish a novel. The program, Aghaie said, has since been expanded to other schools. She estimated 300 students throughout Napa and American Canyon have participated in the Napa Valley Writing Project since last fall, publishing about 100 books since 2010.
The books sold Saturday at Copperfield’s for $12 a copy — $2 went to the bookstore — were all written at Vichy during the 2010-2011 school year.
Besides reading a few pages, Julian and his fellow novelists on Saturday also answered questions and signed copies of their books.
Julian, who planned to buy two hamsters with his sales, dedicated one copy to Walter Blevins, who came to Copperfield’s with the family of another young author.
“To Walter,” Julian’s dedication read. “Enjoy the book. Hope you like it!”
Jack Diakon, 10, sold five copies of his book, “Escape from the Woods,” an adventure novel.
“It’s fun writing a book,” Jack said as he waited for someone to buy his sixth and last available copy after the reading. “It’s a lot of hard work, but in the end it’s totally worth it,” he said.
His father, Dr. Charles Diakon, a Napa dermatologist, praised the program, saying Aghaie made it fun. “This is what public schools need,” he said.
The program helps students improve their writing skills and builds confidence, parents said.
“I’ve published (medical) articles, but I’ve never written a book,” Diakon said.
Aghaie said an Oakland-based nonprofit organization that promotes novel writing as part of the National Novel Writing Month, during which budding authors write a novel in 30 days, led her to start the pilot program at Vichy. She said she believed the kids could do it.
The pilot project quickly expanded to other schools in the Napa Valley Unified School District with support and guidance from Elena Toscano, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, and Dana Cope, who coordinates Napa’s Advanced Learner Programs and Services for gifted students, Aghaie explained.
“The parents and the kids are so hungry for this,” Aghaie said.
The writing project is now a program of the Napa Valley Education Foundation, a nonprofit organization that funds various extracurricular activities in the Napa school district.
Aghaie, who is writing her first novel, wants to continue the program this school year.
Also at Copperfield’s on Saturday was Michelle Paisley, author of “All in Her Head.” As of 3 p.m., she had sold no books, she said.
“I got upstaged by the kids,” Paisley said, laughing, before leaving her table to meet Aghaie.