(As seen in the Pacifica Tribune, October 20,1999)


By Vicki Coe

Special to the Tribune


You could hear a pin drop as Good Shepherd's third, fourth and fifth graders gaped at the glowing specks during a morning assembly last Friday. Eyes bulged, necks craned, pulses raced. There was no mistaking this collective case of Gold Fever.

In fact, gold was the buzz around school all day. "I never knew that gold could be in black sand," said fifth grader Kristen. Her classmate Nicole shared the fascination. "I can't believe that the small pieces of gold cost $25."

The stir came courtesy of a visit from children's author Verla Kay, who treated the students to a first hand history lesson. Although she lives in Gold Country, Kay said she started writing her critically acclaimed picture book, "Gold Fever," eight years ago when she lived in Santa Cruz. "I loved the gold country area and the history behind it," she explained. "That's one of the reasons I moved there."

Kay read "Gold Fever" to the students and gave them a taste of what it's like to write a picture book. While some budding writers were inspired and encouraged by the presentation, others were handed a dose of reality.

"I think I might like to become a writer because I like to read," said third grader Pamela. "I think it would be fun."

Fourth grader Devan wasn't sure the effort of writing a book was justified by the rewards. "It's not worth getting only ten percent of the money," he said.

Kay said that since all of her books are either historical fiction or non-fiction, one of things she likes best about being an author is studying her topic. For instance, she said she and her husband spent many happy hours panning for gold all in the name of research. She showed off her third-place Gold-Panning Competition trophy she won at a county fair in 1994.

The fictional story of a farmer who gets caught up in the gold rush, "Gold Fever" got rave reviews from the students. "I liked the rhyming words," said Devan. His classmate Amy admired the illustrations. "I really liked the western backgrounds," she said. "They're really pretty."

Another fourth grader, Danny, valued the book for its message. "I liked it because it shows kids how hard the gold miners worked and sometimes it paid off, but mostly it didn't."

"I liked when the man kissed the cow when he came back home," said classmate Jackie.

"I'd like to check 'Gold Fever' out of the library and look at it again," said third grader Katie.

Since "Gold Fever" debuted in February, Kay has visited eight schools in northern California and Washington. "It's fun to see the children excited about reading and to experience history in a way they can't get from text books," she said.

"That's the same reason I write my books," she added. Kay's second picture book, "Iron Horses," which tells the story of the transcontinental railroad, hit book stores in June, and she has five others forthcoming. "History turned out to be an interest I didn't know I had," she said. Kay's next picture book, "Covered Wagons, Bumpy Trails," is due out next fall.

"Verla Kay was wonderful with the kids," said Good Shepherd Library Teacher Rosemarie Thompson, who coordinated the visit. "She spoke on their level so beautifully, and she showed them history in a way that they could really get a feeling for what it was like during the gold rush."

"The Good Shepherd visit was one of my most fun to do," Kay remarked later. "The children were so interested and responsive. I really enjoyed it."

Kay said she was equally impressed with Pacifica. "I had no idea this was here," she said. "What a beautiful community. It's gorgeous."

Fifth grader Nicole said she'd recommend Kay to other schools. "She did a really good job teaching us about the gold rush. I had a lot of fun."

Her classmate Jaclyn also gave the assembly a top rating. "I'd give her a ten out of ten."

Photo by Vicki Coe Copyright ©1999 All Rights Reserved


Children's author Verla Kay demonstrated panning for gold much to the delight of students at Good Shepherd School.

Verla Kay

Copyright © 2001

All Rights Reserved