Mystery writer brings book to life for students

Solve the mystery.

A jewelry store owner is working late hours. A shadowy figure runs through the store and a necklace is stolen. The police arrive and crime scene tape is extended from one end of the store to the other. Suspects range from “Gee I didn’t do it Joe,” a G.I. Joe action figure or “Miss Pink,” a stuffed doll.

During this pretend scenario, Belmont Elementary School students gathered to find the culprit. After matching up drawings of fingerprints with the prints left on a jewelry box, detectives found “Miss Pink” was guilty.

The rising fifth-graders in summer school participated in the scenario prepared by children’s author Alice Leonhardt, who writes under the pen name “Alison Hart.”

“Remember I said the least dangerous can be the villian,” Leonhardt told the students.

Leonhardt, who has written about 60 books, came to Belmont from her home in Mt. Sidney, Va. She was invited by Prince William County Police Officer Phil Beuchert. The summer school program, “Cops, Kids and Books,” is in its fourth year.

Beuchert, who is also a school resource officer in Prince William, noticed many students with behavior problems may exhibit poor reading skills. This prompted the program.

The goal is to teach students reading can be “cool,” Beuchert said.

Leonhardt writes children’s books such as “Rescue: The Police Story” and “Chase: The Police Story.” Leonhardt spent time with the Staunton Police Department and attended the citizen’s police academy to help her write the two books, published in 2002.

During Leonhardt’s visit, 13 students learned the key elements to a mystery that correlate with the daily lives of police officers. The two books are a hybrid between fact and fiction, she said.

Elements of a mystery include crime, detectives, clues, eyewitnesses and suspects, Leonhardt told the students.

“The only other thing we need is our bad guy,” she said, noting in every book there is some kind of villian. “Villians can come out all shapes and sizes.”

The students were eager to participate in the pretend scenario and had questions of their own such as Rick Peyes’s inquiry: “How does it feel writing a book?”

“It feels wonderful,” Leonhardt replied.

Shahrooz Khan, 10, said reading teaches him how to make stories of his own.

“It’s good to read,” Khan said.

Peyes, 10, likes reading books about sharks and whales and enjoyed reading Leonhardt’s books. Peyes has read about 20 books this summer, he said.

“Reading goes hand and hand with success,” Leonhardt said.