Writing Gallery


Charlie the Seal

Charlie the Seal was born in the mountains. He lived on the brown, sunny rocks. His family lived there with him.

One day he was hot, so he climbed down the mountain and went to the water for a swim. He saw some catfish that were small and blue and caught one, because catfish smell delicious.

He got out of the water and the water felt hot on him. He went back to the smaller mountain and ate the fish. When it was nighttime, he fell asleep.

The next day, he saw other seals catching fish and playing in the water. He went in the water and swam for awhile, but then he saw the seals going to the top of the mountain, where they were playing and rolling in the snow.

Charlie joined them. They walked across those rocks, and the rocks felt hard on the mountain. Eventually, they went back to the medium-mountain and, when it was dark at night, they went to the cave and fell asleep again.

The baby seals squealed at night when they went away from their mothers. When day came, all the seals woke up and saw their baby seals had woken up, too.

So, the seals brought the baby seals down the mountain and showed the baby seals how to swim in the water. The baby seals went in the water and practiced swimming, and they did good by themselves.

After they had finished, the seals climbed the mountain and went to their caves and fell asleep because it was their bedtime, and the seals sleep a lot.


The following exchange is from our forthcoming Teen Writers Studio chapbook, I Just Like The Way It Sounds, to be released at 826CHI on Monday, June 5th. Join us for the release party and for three other events at Publishing Fest, a week of free release events across Chicago celebrating our students. Find more information on Publishing Fest here.

“Hello, class,” my art teacher sings in her whimsical tone, the one that only art teachers possess. “I want everyone to listen carefully. Your challenge today is to turn this piece of clay into a sculpture that represents you and your perception of life. It can be your own life, or it can be life in general. But I don’t want to see anything too simple or easy. Do not just sculpt a tree or an apple. I want you to think broader–more abstract.”

I peer down at the rigid lump of clay and slowly take the rolling pin and begin flattening and smoothing, running my arms back and forth until it is flat, smooth, and perfect. Untouched; untampered with.

           It was just like my life at the time. The only life I knew.

I was lucky.

           My family had never kept secrets before.

           It all started out with just a doctor’s appointment. My dad, a firm believer in taking as little time off from work as possible, decided out of the blue to go to the doctor with my mom.

           As they dropped my brother and me off at our neighbor’s house, I kept asking him that morning why he was bothering to take a day off from work for the first time since he’d gotten sick with pneumonia. No response, just a dull gaze, his eyes big.

Trying and trying.

The next day in art class, the same thing. I took a chunk of clay and flattened it out. It seemed so pure there, so pristine.

           My art teacher came up behind me.

           “Is this really all you can come up with?” she asked.

           I silently shrugged.

           She bent down next to me, sighed, and whispered straight into my right ear, “Do you think life is perfect and flat like this?”

           I shrugged again.

           “Sometimes life needs a bit of forming to help you grow stronger,” she told me. “That’s what I want you to try and convey through this project. Tomorrow, I want you to start over again. You may smooth out the clay, but then I want you to make something you see as perfectly imperfect.”

           I opened my mouth to say something, but nothing came out. I didn’t know what she meant. Not yet, at least.

           I was lucky.

           We all sat at the table that night. Sandwiches for dinner. I pressed my water glass against the wooden table.

           Trying and trying.

           I already knew.

           We didn’t wash the dishes that night.

           My little brother, barely nine years old, hurried downstairs to watch television, his life so protected and smooth, like his own soft cheek.

           The words didn’t strike me at first.

           Mom is sick.

           My parents sat close together and my mom cried as they delivered the news. I held her hand, soft and always smelling like the hand cream she kept in the car.           

           The next day brought another doctor’s appointment. My head spun as I realized my life, the clay that it had once been, smooth and flat like when you run your hand over your old baby blanket, was now changing.

           Pieces were being torn off, squished together, built and then torn down and now a great big lump of nothing.

           I went to art class angry that day. I didn’t flatten the clay like I normally did. I began to mold and twist and form this piece of clay, my hands working detached from my mind, making the clay into the most imperfect, unbalanced, complex sculpture that seemed to include my every gnarly emotion and joyful feeling and each sensation in between.

           My art teacher came over to me that day and said, “That’s what I like to see. That is real life.”      

           Two months later, my mom had surgery.

           As I fought through school that day, I felt a numbness, almost as if the clay weren’t even there anymore.

           It had been taken to the kiln, for its final stage of transformation.

           Trying and trying; smoother and smoother.

           That night, I came home from school.

           She was there, lying on the couch, her familiar cobalt-blue robe wrapped around her like a swaddle, shaped like a sleeping newborn, like an unfinished sculpture, molded from flat clay, perfect and new.

I dug into my backpack and pulled out the finally finished sculpture. I hadn’t bothered to smooth over it with a glossy layer of paint or make it more colorful. It was just there and stayed there, finally a peaceful, set object that could not be fixed or flattened anymore. It reflected the sun that afternoon ever so slightly, as we all breathed a sigh of relief that this era of unknown and somber was finally over.

           I am lucky.

An Exchange of Letters Between: Henry M, Matthew G, & Santiago N

The following exchange is from our forthcoming Young Authors Book Project, P.S. You Sound Like Someone I Can Trust. Henry is a sophomore at Amundsen High School and Matthew and Santiago an eighth grader at Emiliano Zapata Academy. Scroll to the bottom to read their author bios!

Dear Matthew,

    Today I am going to write about something that I like to do. I like to read Amulet books. The Amulet books are the best comic books I have ever read (and the only comic books I read).

    I wonder if you like any sports like soccer, volleyball, basketball, or baseball. Or, do you like any video games? Do you like watching scary movies or cartoon movies?

    Other things I like are songs like “Stressed Out” by Twenty One Pilots. I like listening to the song and thinking about if the song could happen to me. I wonder, which part of the song do you like?

    Well, Matthew, I think this is all. Goodbye and read you next time. I mean see you next time!

Santiago N.

Dear Santiago,

    I like to watch the Bears play because they’re really good. Also, I watch soccer on TV sometimes but not all the time. My three favorite songs are “Hit the Dab,” “I Gotta Feeling,” and “Thunderstruck.”

    I like those songs because all of them have a really good beat. Also “Thunderstruck” has a really heavy beat that shakes up my mom’s car when we listen to it. What are your favorite songs? Do you like AC/DC? If you like the band AC/DC, that is good because me and you will have something in common.

In conclusion, I hope to see you soon to find out if you like the band AC/DC and what songs you like, other than the one by Twenty One Pilots that you mentioned in your letter. Also, I hope we can be friends. What brand of shoes do you like?


Dear Santiago,

    Hi, my name is Henry. I’m Matthew’s partner in English class for the letter writing assignment. I noticed in your letter that you have a lot in common with us. For example: both of us like sports and music. In my letter, I will tell you a lot about myself.

    I’m an avid fan of sports. I especially like cross country, swimming, and downhill skiing. I enjoy cross country, as I enjoy being fast and just getting a good workout. It gives me a chance to get outside and get fresh air. I get motivated to run by the terrific advice from my coach, teammates, and family. Me and Matt also did downhill skiing with our school’s Special Olympics team in January. This was especially fun, as we made new friends and tried something we had never had the opportunity to do. I am also on the swim team, which is a great sport to compete in.

    I have some questions to ask you as well. What type of music do you like? What do you like to do for fun? Do you have any favorite TV shows or movies? My favorite bands include Twenty One Pilots, Daft Punk, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Slipknot, and The Beatles. When not in school, I enjoy playing video games, singing, and helping cook. My favorite TV show is Doctor Who  and my favorite movie is The Dark Knight.

I hope you find me to be a very cool and talented guy. You seem like a cool dude from what I’ve read in your letter!

Until next time,

Dear Matthew and Henry,

I wish I could write you each a letter, but I think you are both so cool so I am writing you both in this letter together. I hope you like it.

The first thing I would want to write to you guys is about my person or place that is special to me. I don’t know about you, but my special person is my mom. Why, you might ask? Well, my mom is always cooking for the family (sometimes my dad helps). She gives us a lot of things and we don’t even give anything to her. My mom is shy but tough. Why? Well, because when we (me and my brother) get in trouble, it is like she is Bowser and I am Mini Mario from Super Mario Brothers. Sometimes I win in the video game, but in real life it is always like GAME OVER. My mom makes the most delicious food and I smell her cooking every day. YUM! When she makes beans you have to step two feet away from my brother. (I actually don’t mean this in a mean way.)

Another thing that I am going to be talking about (well, actually, writing about) is what freedom means to me. To start this up, I think freedom means to me that you can do anything you want. Once on a dark, dark night, me, my brother, and my little sister were in my room playing Wii. My mom was sleeping in her bed and we got to play alone. I think that was freedom.

Do you both like video games? If you do, which ones? Do you have consoles? Do you like music? How about Legos? I can’t think of any more questions. Read you next time.


Dear Santiago,

    I have a lot to tell you about high school and my experience skiing on my school’s ski team with the Special Olympics. It’s really fun because you get to ski down hills really fast, and you do it with kids just like you who have disabilities too. That is what makes it fun. The coolest part is when you get a medal, and the medals are very shiny and very cool looking. I have never fallen on skis before when going down a hill in a competition, but I have fallen during practice.

Have you ever been bullied at school before? I used to get bullied at school and it was not fun. It also hurt me inside and made me extremely angry. If you get bullied at school, I understand how you feel.

I hope you meet me in person so I can talk to you, so we can be friends, and so I can walk around with you in the hallways of Amundsen.


P.S. I won three medals skiing this year in the Special Olympics!

Dear Santiago,

    I have an interesting story to tell you today! It’s about how I won a gold medal in downhill skiing. I will explain how even if you aren’t the best at something, you can practice and keep trying to get better. Follow me down the slopes as I tell you how, with enough practice, you can achieve anything!

    It began in January 2016. I was on my way to the Chestnut Mountain Resort in Galena, IL. It was my first day skiing with my school’s Special Olympics Ski Team. After a three-hour-long bus ride of eternity, we made it. Within an hour, I would be skiing! The first challenge, however, came when we were getting into our ski gear. Getting on the bundles of clothes was okay, but it was the boots that were the main challenge! After getting bundled up, we walked down to the equipment room, where the boots and skis were. Me and my teammates Matt, Noel, and Henry all struggled to fit the boots on! After help from coaches Mr. Ward, Mr. Craig, and Mr. Binder, we learned how to walk in the boots. Boy, was it painful. They were heavy and felt like they were made of lead! After that, we learned how to take our skis off and how to fall. Both were equally a bit challenging, but getting up took a while, as we had to slowly move our arms backwards and walk backwards to get up.

    Then, the second day came along. That day we learned how to do a “pizza” with our skis to slow down and “french fry” to go fast. We went down the Bunny and Rookie’s Ridge trails. Going down the hills and learning how to slow down was a breeze for me. I also learned how to turn, which I wasn’t as good at. I kept crashing and nearly hurting others! However, after getting help from Mr. Ward and Mr. Craig, I slowly got better. I even got to do down a bigger hill. It was kind of scary, but I’m used to it now. After a long day of skiing, we were just one day away from the competition.

    After an exhausting day and a night of restless sleep, the competition was finally here. I was confident that I would win some gold. Me, Matt, Noel, and Henry were all a little nervous, but we all hoped to go on to the championships. We all were allowed an hour of practice before the games began, so I went over to my usual Rookie’s Ridge trail for a few laps. Mr. Ward, Mr. Binder, and Mr. Craig were all confident we’d do great!     When I was ready to compete, I got a little more nervous, as I felt I was going to do badly. However, after racing down and avoiding the colored flags, me, Matt, and Henry made Amundsen proud by winning gold! Unfortunately, Noel didn’t qualify, but we still cheered him up and told him he did great anyway. In the end, I’ve learned that with enough practice and confidence, you can achieve anything!


Dear Matthew and Henry,

    Some weeks ago in a school not very far away, it was Valentine’s Day. And on Valentine's Day, we had a dance. Do you guys have a dance when it is a holiday?

    My Valentine’s Day started fine. I usually come late to school and I forget things and my day is not the greatest, but this day started okay. It was Tuesday, so I knew 826CHI was coming to write with us during literacy class. Time passed fast with them in our class, then I had to finish my social studies project on the computer before I could go to the dance. Then Ms. Ramirez said, “Okay, students. Line up.” I checked the clock: 1:00 p.m. The dance! I was almost done with my project—only two more sentences and then, I was finally done!

I was happy because at the end of the hall I could hear the loud music coming from the gym. Outside, I saw my classmate Balta and he told me, “Crystal is waiting for you.” I said, “Okay, thanks.” When I went inside the gym, the music was even louder. I asked my friends Jacob and David if they’d seen her. “Nope,” they both said. A few minutes later, my brother came toward me. “Hey, bro.” I had totally forgotten about him. He was with our neighbor, Heriberto. Heriberto is a cool kid. I couldn’t find Crystal, so for a lot of the dance I was mostly hanging out with my brother and Heriberto.

I finally found Crystal, and we got to talk and dance for what felt like five minutes. I did not bring the card that I was going to give to her. Instead, I bought her candy. It went fine for me. Oh, I forgot to tell you: if you were wondering who Crystal is, she is the girl who I’ve been going out with for three weeks.

See you in June, I think.


Dear Santiago,

    I think it was very cool and brave that you were able to dance with Crystal. I was never that brave in eighth grade. The one time I was brave was when I sang and performed with my school’s rock band. I had to work up a lot of courage to sing, but I had a ton of fun, even with a couple of mistakes.

    This was in eighth grade, a month before I would graduate from middle school, and it was the day of my school’s variety show. One of the performers was the school rock band, for which I was one of the singers. We’d been practicing for months. I got to sing on a couple of songs, “Sunshine of Your Love” by Cream and “Do I Wanna Know” by the Arctic Monkeys. I typically get nervous singing on stage, but I felt a lot more confident that day.

    It was showtime and I was on stage, singing casually for the first song with two other singers who were sharing a mic. It was a little uncomfortable because the stage was so small. Then, on the second song, the other mic broke! I was the only one singing. I quietly and nervously sang more of “Do I Wanna Know,” but remembering that the show must go on, I gathered confidence to continue singing! By the end, I felt a lot more relaxed and the crowd even cheered me on, seeing that I sang bravely no matter what happened.

    What do you think of my story of bravery? To answer your question about if Amundsen holds holiday dances, the answer is no. However, we do have fun homecoming and winter dances! Hope you are well!

P.S. Good job again on dancing with Crystal! smile

Henry M is a fifteen-year-old from Chicago who attends Amundsen High School as a sophomore. He enjoys participating in his favorite sports, which include swimming, running cross country, and competing in the Special Olympics, for which he holds an impressive two gold medals! Outside of school, he loves listening to rock music, cooking, reading, and practicing guitar. In the future, he would like to be a chef, like Gordon Ramsay, except without getting mad or yelling at other chefs!

Santiago N is a shy student who likes to watch, play, and read about Star Wars. He spends his time playing Five Nights at Freddy’s. He is also a Minecrafter. He plays with his brother and friend. When he grows up he wants to be a video game maker or an actor. When he was little he was a kid, he didn’t like to read. Now he has a lot of books he can read with his friends and family.

Matthew G goes to Amundsen High School and is sixteen years old. He is a very strong person who loves dogs. At home, he lives with his brother Dan, his mom, and his dad. He also loves to read and ski. Other people like Matthew because they know that he is a kind, strong, and nice young man. He is also a good reader and writer. At school, he is a very hard worker every day. He was a person who got bullied at school a lot, but that is done and he is now very liked at school. Matthew is very athletic and very strong.

An Exchange of Letters Between: Lizbeth M and Javier T

The following exchange is from our forthcoming Young Authors Book Project, P.S. You Sound Like Someone I Can Trust. Javier is a sophomore at Amundsen High School and Lizbeth is an eighth grader at Emiliano Zapata Academy. Scroll to the bottom to read their author bios!

Dear Javier,

    My name is Lizbeth and I’m thirteen years old. I live in Little Village. I come from Mexican parents, and the most important thing to me is my family. I love shopping, and I like to be honest to people. I was born in Chicago, Illinois. I go to a school named Emiliano Zapata Academy. I listen to music but not all the time. I have friends but not a lot. I have three friends. My neighborhood is great. I have fun traveling in my neighborhood. I like to travel in Mexico. It is one of my favorite places to travel, and I have a lot of fun there.

Well, now I want to ask you some questions! Where are you from? What is your favorite thing to do? What is the most important thing to you? Do you like your school? What is your favorite subject? Do you like to read? What places have you travelled to? Do you like sports? Well, those are the only questions I have for you. I hope this will be enough information about me.


Dear Lizbeth,

    My name is Javier and I’m sixteen years old. I live in a neighborhood called Albany Park. I have lived most of my life in Albany Park. I came from Mexican parents and I’m the only child in my family that was born in Chicago. My parents and my older sister were born in Michoacán, Mexico. To be honest, it’s pretty stressful being the first child to be born in Chicago and in the United States because my parents expect more from me. They expect me to get a better education, a better job, to get into a great university, and to get a good degree. And I know I might sound stereotypical, but I love to play soccer and I’m on my high school’s soccer team. I’ve been playing since my freshman year.

    To answer some of your questions: my favorite activities would consist of sports, music, and art. I play soccer, football, softball, volleyball, and basketball. My favorite sport would be soccer. My position in soccer would be right wing or center right midfielder. I love running around and helping out on defense, but I love going up to score, as well. I love the adrenaline I feel while I’m dribbling around the other players. It’s just amazing contributing to a “big family.” Joining a program in high school is great when you need support and people to relate to. They will be your family throughout your high school experience.

    High school is overall an amazing experience. You learn a lot in your classes and you meet amazing teachers. If you have any more questions, I’d love to answer them.

Take care,

Dear Javier,

    I got your letter and thank you. It was fun to read it. I like how you answered my questions. I noticed we have some things in common. I read that you like volleyball and I also like to play volleyball. It is one of my favorite sports. I also read that you like soccer. Cool, that’s a good sport. You exercise a lot. I do like soccer but not that much. My two brothers like to play soccer. My parents are also from Mexico, like yours. Also, my parents want me to have a good education and have a better job in the future.

    The best day of my life was when I went to Mexico. Mexico is really different from Chicago. Mexico is like another world where you feel free. You can’t compare Chicago to Mexico because they’re so different. They might have some things in common but not that much. When I went to Mexico for the first time, I didn’t know what to do because it was a new place for me, but as the days passed I went to different, fun places. There was a store where they had machines that you could play video games on. Everyday I wanted to go to the store and play my favorite machine game. That was my favorite thing to do in Mexico and I will never forget it.

    Okay, now I’m going to talk about a special place for me. It is my home because it reminds me of happy moments with my family and also the saddest moments. It also reminds me of my two brothers and sister growing bigger. When I see my house, I immediately remember all these things. Well, that’s it. If you have more questions for me, I would be happy to answer them.

    I do have some questions for you. What is your favorite color? What is your favorite food to eat? What is your favorite thing to do in your free time? I hope you have enjoyed reading my letter.


Dear Lizbeth,

    I enjoyed reading your letter. I love tacos! They are my all-time favorite! Well, a lot has happened throughout these couple of weeks. I’m a family person, so I’m always with my family and really get along with them. Actually, one of my uncles died and it was a pretty harsh to experience to go through. I also ended up in the hospital on another night and, well, the news didn’t excite me. I found out that I might have a heart condition that could lead me to death, but the doctors referred me to a cardiologist. They are going to run some tests and figure out if I’m having that condition for real or if it was a one-time thing.

I have had a lot of free time and since I couldn’t workout or play soccer, I started to write. Not just because it was a homework assignment—it was something I wanted to do. I’m not much of a writer and I didn’t know what to write, so I wrote a story. Hopefully, you’d like to read it. I would like to know a story about your family or you—the most memorable, the craziest, worth-talking-about story. I’d honestly love to hear about it!

Javier T

Dear Javier,

    I enjoyed reading your letter. I’m also a family person. I’m always with my parents, but it doesn’t bother me, being all the time with my family.

    I’m so sorry that you went through all of this and that your uncle passed away. I haven’t been through this, but I can imagine how bad it feels to lose somebody you love. I hope you feel better and your family too. I wish nothing bad had happened. I’m sorry about your heart condition and I hope you are better soon.

I do have one experience that I can’t forget that I will tell you about: The first time I went to Mexico, it was on a bus. I was really nervous because it was my first time. I didn’t know how Mexico would look or what it would be like. But I can’t forget it because of the bus. It is so horrible to ride on a bus for almost three days. It felt horrible because it was hot outside and all the people in the bus made it hot too.

At first, I didn’t want to go to Mexico because I didn’t know people there, but when we got there it was so cool. You can feel free. When I got there, so many kids were playing. I got to meet a cousin of my same age and another cousin only one year older than us. When it was time to go back, I didn’t want to go because I loved Mexico.


Dear Lizbeth,

    I appreciate your worrying and hoping for the best for me and my family. Lately things have been calm and are getting better. I went to the hospital for an appointment and the doctor told me that I’ll be all right. My heart is stable and I won’t suffer drastic effects. I honestly felt so relieved to hear that I am stable. The very next day, I got up earlier than usual. I went for a long run and played soccer like never before. I was so worried that I wouldn’t get to return to heavy weight training and intense workouts, but I just picked up from where I left off and I’m gradually making progress.

    Mexico is such a beauty. Roaming Los Ranchos and the little cities is a must. I remember that my family over in Mexico would take me to Morelia to go shopping and to this water park. Because there are mostly females on my mother’s side of the family, I play soccer or juggle the ball if I get bored.

    My fondest memory would be when I bought my fixie. Once the package came in the mail, I built the bike myself and rode out. I always ride downtown and to the South Side. It takes an hour or two, but it’s totally worth it. I’ve learned many routes and new places. I always try to revisit them when I can. I would bring my older sister, but she’s too slow to ride with me.

    I don’t really have any other specific questions, but I’d love to hear any other story you’re willing to share.


P.S. During my bike rides I usually witness the east shore of Chicago, like the Lake Michigan scenery. For example, I rode out with a friend this Saturday night on the Lakefront Trail, down past the Bean and the Willis Tower. After riding to the Bean, we cruised downtown. We were just enjoying the view and trying to take as many pictures as we could. The Lakeshore Trail is my favorite route. It’s lengthy, but it’s a lot of fun. You get to witness nature, the lake, the Chicago skyline, and it extends way down to the South Side. I just love it.

Lizbeth M is thirteen years old. She goes to Emiliano Zapata Academy. She loves to spend time with her family, and has two brothers and one sister. She likes to go to Mexico. She’s a shy person. She would like to design clothes, be able to cook different kinds of food, and be a doctor or a nurse.

Javier T is sixteen years old. He was born and raised in Chicago. He is Mexican American but was raised as a full-on Mexican. He loves to play volleyball, softball, baseball, and soccer. Some other interests are music, art, and food. Javier loves tacos! *Buy him tacos.*

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And the Rest Is Noise

Interviews & Reflections From The Students Of 826CHI’s 2017 Pitchfork Music Writing Intensive

by the 826CHI Teen Press Corps

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