Originally published in The Blade on November 9, 2022.
Lydia Machel is an author and a wannabe entomologist. And she’s 8 years old.
When the mail truck pulled up to her house, the insect-lover didn’t want to retrieve the mail in case there were spiders — they’re arthropods, not insects.
But, she excitedly knelt down on the front porch to examine and greet a small beetle.
Lydia fused her love for art and animals into her self-published book, Chameleon's Adventure in Rainbow Forest, which she both wrote and illustrated.
The project started last fall, when Lydia had a school assignment to write a three-paragraph fiction short story. When she expressed interest in writing a full chapter book, Lydia’s mom, Tricia Machel, helped her daughter meet that goal.
Lydia is a student at Ohio Virtual Academy, which allows “extra flexibility” to pursue passion projects.
“I can really work with her and when she or one of her sisters expresses an interest in learning or doing something and setting a goal, it's easier for me to help them along with that because they're right here at home,” Ms. Machel said. “Even just the passing comment of, ‘Oh, I would like to do this,’ why not dive into that, explore that interest, and see where it goes?”
Together they brainstormed the story’s problem-solution structure. As Lydia wrote the story, Ms. Machel asked clarifying questions and encouraged the young writer to show not tell.
“It's very much her writing, her personality that's coming through in her story,” Ms. Machel said. “She did an amazing job, she was determined.”
Through a series of obstacles, the main character Chameleon goes from being greedy to realizing that the most important thing — which Lydia showed by pointing to other characters on the page with a giggle — is helping those around him.
The 30-page story is infused with cliffhangers — one of Lydia’s favorite literary devices — and with every page turn, readers will see Lydia’s own watercolor depictions of each scene.
What’s next for the 8-year-old author? She’s intent on two goals: catching an adult praying mantis and writing a new book each year.
For the latter, she’s already begun brainstorming a plot and characters — this time she might introduce a new insect character. But when the idea of a spider was mentioned, Lydia jerked up from laying on the couch, vowing, “No, I am not adding any spiders.”
Ms. Machel said she’ll help her daughter reach her aspirations, but won’t push her to keep writing if she moves on from the goal.
“I'm going to keep encouraging her if her interest is there,” Ms. Machel said. “But if her interest changes, this is huge that she even did the one.”
Lydia’s printed book made its way to 11 states across the country since she finished the project in May. It’s even in a library in Iowa. In order to bring it to Toledo’s library, Lydia’s dream of having her own library card came true. She added a copy to the library’s collection through the local author submission form.
Kristi Kopanis, a Toledo Lucas County Public Library spokesperson, said Lydia’s book hit the shelves in June and has been checked out four times, which “for a brand new book, that is awesome and a really good number.” She added that many of the library’s local author submissions are books written by older adults.
“To see a young local author is really exciting,” she said. “We're hoping that people see Lydia's story and they want to write a book of their own.”
Though it's housed at the Main Library, patrons can request Lydia’s book to any location.
Chameleon's Adventure in Rainbow Forest is available for purchase at bit.ly/3hbaC0m.
To learn more about Ohio Virtual Academy, visit https://ohva.k12.com/.