Around the Archdiocese

Catholic school student publishes fiction book

Wrote story based on life experiences

By Jill Kruse
Witness Editorial Assistant

DECORAH — Last school year, Jodi Hartz thought her daughter, Jenna, then a fifth-grader at St. Benedict Catholic School in Decorah, must have an unbelievable amount of homework.

“She would come home after school, and most nights she would spend hours in front of the computer,” the mother said. “I thought it was all homework. But then one day she said to me, ‘No, Mom, I’m writing a book.’”

That book, which Jenna Hartz titled “The Guardians of Middle School,” was completed late this summer and has now been published by Outskirts Press out of Denver, Colorado.

The 95-page book captures Jenna’s experiences as a student at St. Benedict’s, with her teacher and classmates as main characters. The book has a twist, though; in it, her classmates have discovered they have magical powers.

“One day my friends and I were just brainstorming random ideas, when I had the idea to write a book,” Jenna said. “I then decided to take my second semester of fifth grade and mix it in with an adventure.”

Jenna began writing her book in January of this year and put the finishing touches on it in August. She wrote and edited the book, as well as designed the cover.

As she wrote, Jenna incorporated what was happening in her real life classroom into her work of fiction.

“Almost every day after school I’d go to the computer and write about what happened recently at school, and also added the adventure into it,” Jenna remembered.

The project was both fun and challenging, she said. She found time to write while already juggling a full schedule of school and homework, basketball practice, and flute and piano lessons.

Jenna feels her faith helped her along the way.

“I just kept reminding myself to never give up, like my faith has taught me,” she said, “and not to quit what I’ve already worked so hard on.”

Jodi said that she and her husband, Michael, are very proud of what Jenna has accomplished at such a young age, as are Jenna’s two older brothers.

“We’re all excited about what she has done – writing a book when she was only 11 years old,” her mom said. “We’ve learned what a self-starter she is, a leader; she was willing to embark on this all on her own.”

Jenna, now 12, credits her classmates at St. Benedict’s and her fifth grade homeroom teacher, Lori Galligan, for inspiring her to write her book.

The teacher said she is humbled by the acknowledgment.

“Jenna is quick to say I inspired her to write the book, but she has inspired me more,” reflected Galligan. “She took a dream, and she went for it.”

Galligan said Jenna presented her with an early manuscript of the book on the final day of last year’s school year.

“I was surprised when she handed it to me! It was so exciting,” she said. “As a teacher, it’s so nice when you see one of your students so passionate about reading and writing.”

The teacher said she was touched to see the way in which Jenna’s classmates rallied around her as she worked on her story.

“They were all very supportive. They celebrated this book with her,” she said.

While “The Guardians of Middle School” was Jenna’s first book, it might not be her last. When asked if she would consider writing something again, she said, “Possibly another time in the future when the school work slows down a bit.”

As for what she wants to be when she grows up, she said possibly a teacher or – fittingly – an author.

Her fifth grade teacher said she looks forward to seeing what the future holds for Jenna as she continues through middle school, on to high school and beyond.

“She’s a really neat girl. So grounded. Her faith is important to her. I’m really excited to where she goes from here,” Galligan said.

Jenna’s book, “The Guardians of Middle School,” can be purchased at Amazon or at Barnes and Noble. She has also donated a copy of the book to the Decorah Public Library, the St. Benedict School Library and a number of other libraries in northeast Iowa.

She will be available for a book signing at Dragonfly Books in Decorah on Nov. 28 at 7 p.m.

Jenna Hartz, a sixth- grader at St. Benedict’s School, signs a copy of her book. (Contributed photo)