SARASOTA, Fla. — Grown-ups like it when E’yannie Gomez writes about bullying in school, and how to overcome it, but she prefers straight comedy.
The 11-year-old is interested in life lessons, but she also likes to laugh about things.
Like the time she and her sister fought over her baby brother’s poopy diaper.
“Because it’s hilarious,” says E’yannie, a fourth-grader at Samoset Elementary School in Bradenton. “We had a war with a poopy diaper. Poop. Diaper. C’mon.”
In the course of a single story, she smiles, grimaces and rolls her eyes. A natural performer. That kind of personality comes through in her 42-page paperback, “The Crazy World of Alexa,” which came out in December.
When E’yannie began writing stories in a journal, her mom, Shantia Benson, suggested she start with things that happened in real life. They worked together on those stories. They produced enough copy for a book and found a Tampa company to help them publish it.
Lots of headaches. Problems with editing and production.
Benson, who works at Walmart, thinks the book is pretty good for a project that almost ended before it started.
“Wellll,” she explains, laughing, “her first journal got accidentally thrown away. Whoops! I had to get her another one.”
Gabrielle Baggetta, E’yannie’s reading and writing teacher last year at Samoset Elementary, calls her creative and inquisitive. Her student is also a leader who volunteered for classroom jobs and school assignments.
“We get new students, and she’s the one who wants to introduce them to teachers and show them how things work,” Baggetta says. “She’s matured a lot this year.”
E’yannie did a lot of the work on her book before she started fourth grade, but her teacher was happy to continue her education. It’s not every day her class includes a published author.
“I’ve had students who wrote in journals, but to put themselves out there and write a book, that’s completely new,” Baggetta says. “And exciting, as well.”
Reaction to “The Crazy World of Alexa” has been promising — several teachers bought copies — and NextGen Magazine in Bradenton did a cover story in April. Early in May, the young author appeared on the “Suncoast View” talk show for ABC-7 in Sarasota.
E’yannie made the host laugh, but she wasn’t proud of her performance.
“I was really shy on TV,” she says, scrunching up her face. “I messed up a couple of times.”
E’yannie lives with her mother, brother, sister and grandmother in East Bradenton.
Neighbours on their cul-de-sac come over to say they’re proud of her.
Mother and daughter, who go back and forth about things, share a passion for theme parks, Chinese food and country music. They listen to WCTQ, 92.1 FM. They sing along to the opening lines of a Luke Combs song called “Beautiful Crazy.”
Her day starts with a coffee and ends with a wine
Take forever to get ready so she’s never on time
Benson says she learned to like country at Lakewood Ranch High School, where she graduated in 2007. What kind of student was she? She smiles: “Class clown.”
Over the past 13 years, Benson has moved from night hours to the day shift at Walmart.
E’yannie often wears a red polo shirt that is part of her school uniform. Sometimes her socks don’t match, but she likes clothes.
“I’m thinking about being a doctor and a fashion designer,” she says, pausing to think twice about that future. “The fashion designer would probably be a home thing.”
Benson worries that her daughter is growing up too fast.
“I’m the tallest kid in my class,” E’yannie says. “I’m up to my teacher’s chin.”
Daughter teases mother about being the scared one on a Busch Gardens roller coaster.
“See, it’s been a long time since I was on a ride,” Benson answers, laughing. “I forgot how it felt.”
Mother jokes that her daughter might have too much personality.
“Sooo dramatic,” she says. “We like to have fun, but she’s maybe a little more out there.”
Samoset and smiling faces
Benson can’t remember how she came up with her daughter’s name.
“It just popped into my mind,” she says. “I said, OK, here we go.”
E’yannie’s father is from Guatemala, which explains her last name, Gomez. When her long hair isn’t braided, she looks a lot like her Hispanic classmates at school. Benson, who is black, said when E’yannie was younger, people wondered if she was adopted.
Around the house, she fights with her little sister and dotes on her baby brother. Housework does not interest her, but her mother says she does what is needed.
“I help with the children — my younger siblings,” she says. “Not the cleaning, not the dishes, not all that.”
At Samoset Elementary, she made A’s, B’s and C’s. Math, not English, is her best subject.
She’s quick, though, about a lot of things. She says her elementary school was named for a Native American, which turns out to be correct. Osamoset was a tribal leader who met the Pilgrims in 1621 at Plymouth, Massachusetts.
In the afternoon, E’yannie rode the bus from Samoset to after-school care at the Smiling Faces Academy.
That’s where she has a friend named Alexa.
“I showed her the book and she says, ‘Who’s this?” E’yannie says. “I said, ‘That’s you.’ And she said, ‘Awww.'”
Alexa, Book Two
In a lot of ways, E’yannie is a regular kid who plays kickball. She likes “SpongeBob SquarePants” and goofy movies such as “Baby Boss” and “Uncle Drew.” She has no big plans for this summer.
She says she doesn’t like attention, but that’s not exactly true. E’yannie is proud of her book. She wants to be recognized.
“Here’s my card,” she says, handing over a slip with a colour picture on the front, and her phone number and website address on the back. It says she’s available for author events.
“The Crazy World of Alexa” is available on Amazon and on their own website www.thecrazyworldofalexa.com. The family prefers direct orders.
People are already asking about a next book. Welcome to the world of writing and publishing.
E’yannie says she isn’t sure what she would write, but she can tell all sorts of stories about her life.
She’s never ridden in an airplane — now that sounds scary — but has taken a few bus trips to Chicago with her grandmother. They visited family and friends. Her tales are filled with vivid details.
“My great-grandma, she lives next to a gas station,” E’yannie says. “And every time, we’d go to this food place with delicious hamburgers.”
In Florida, she and her mom like seafood and fishing.
“We went crabbing one time in Terra Ceia,” Benson says. “That was good. We caught a lot of crabs. More than 10.”
That might be book material, too, but E’yannie has a better story.
She turns to a page in her journal called “The Funniest Thing.” Mom warns that grandma might not like this one, but the storyteller can’t wait to spill everything.
On the family trip to Busch Gardens — “Bush Grdns,” in her notes — grandma walked around and around the park. Then her feet started to hurt. When grandma took off her shoes, E’yannie tried them on, and the insole fell out.
She’s not an artist, but her notebook features a drawing of a shoe and sock with matching holes. The story gets better when she’s acting out the parts of people trying on shoes.
“That’s funny,” E’yannie insists, as her mom laughs along. “That’s the funniest thing.”
Information from: Sarasota (Fla.) Herald-Tribune, http://www.heraldtribune.com
Thomas Becnel, The Associated Press