Word Power

Former Armstrong High School student Abby Cooper inspires kids with words.
Author Abby Cooper and students at Zachary Lane Elementary School.

From a young age, Abby Cooper’s life has revolved around reading much-loved books, creating her own neighborhood libraries and putting her thoughts and feelings into writing. So it’s fitting that the young author, a 2007 graduate of Armstrong High School, has come full circle in contributing her own literary work to young readers.

In July 2016, Cooper published Sticks and Stones, a middle school novel about a 12-year-old girl named Elyse. “[She] has a skin disorder called ‘cognadjivisibilitis’ where the names others call her actually show up on her arms and legs and stick like temporary tattoos,” Cooper explains. “She discovers a few chapters into the book that the things she thinks about herself start appearing, too.”

The idea for the novel germinated in Cooper’s mind while working as a school librarian in Chicago in 2013 where she interacted with middle schoolers on a daily basis. At the library, she felt completely in her element recommending books for the students to read, hearing their feedback and getting their requests for even more books.

During that time, her students were reading the book Wonder by R.J. Palacio, a story about a fifth grade boy who faced colossal challenges at school for his physical differences that made him stand out from the other kids.

“They were hungry for more books about kids feeling different from everyone else. And I think that’s a big issue for kids that age. I wanted to give them another character they could relate to and root for,” Cooper says.

“So at a certain point I just kind of told the kids, okay, you want even more books like Wonder? I’m going to try and write you one,” Cooper says. Since writing her own book had been a life-long personal goal, she figured she had a great reason to make it happen.

“It got me thinking, yes, bullying is an issue and the ways kids treat one another, but it got me thinking about how those words really stick and make a long-lasting impact,” Cooper says.

abby cooper

Cooper’s novel takes the reader through Elyse’s journey during middle school, where she must come to terms with the labels she hears, the thoughts she has about herself and ultimately learning to be okay with who she is.

Cooper says she’s grateful so many wonderful people fueled her writing aspirations, including her parents, David and Kathy Cooper, who encouraged their daughter to write from an early age.

“What impresses us about her journey to get to this place of a published author at such a young age is that in the face of any obstacle she faced, she persevered with the dream she had. From a classroom teacher, to school librarian, to now being a full-time author, she followed those twists and turns of her journey and used the experiences in her life in ways that helped her reach her dream,” says Kathy Cooper.

Beth Huntley, Cooper’s third grade teacher at Zachary Lane Elementary School, was also an inspiration in the author’s life. “[Abby] already had a goal of being a writer as early as third grade. She would write daily in her journal, and in high school she would visit my class, read to the children and at the end of the year she would write fun stories using all of the students' names sprinkled throughout the story,” Huntley says.

Cooper has been a guest speaker at schools talking about her journey to becoming a published author. Many of the students have told Cooper how they’ve enjoyed her book or that they want to become authors one day, too.

“I wanted to write something that would be fun for kids to read and [that]people could relate to, but I also wanted to write something that really could help kids, too,” Cooper says.