- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 13, 2004

When Peter “Chip” Denton, headmaster of a classical Christian school in North Carolina, carries a certain children’s book around with him, the students stop to tell him they want to read it, too.

“It makes a certain buzz among the kids. They think it’s cool,” Mr. Denton said about “Let Freedom Ring,” written by fifth-grader Regina Parker, a student he taught in fourth-grade Latin, the only class he teaches at Trinity School of Durham/Chapel Hill.

“It’s a great example for other kids,” he said.

In September 2003, Regina entered the book in a children’s writing contest sponsored by Carolina Parent magazine. Regina won the annual contest, designated for children in kindergarten to age 18, both for her age group and overall best story.

Regina, who has been reading and writing since she was 4, explains what freedom means through the story of 7-year-old Lydia, the name of her 9-year-old sister. When Lydia overhears a news broadcast about the war in Iraq, or Operation Iraqi Freedom, she asks her father why America is fighting such a war. Lydia’s parents spend the day pointing out what freedom is as they go through their daily activities.

Lydia’s father “explains to Lydia how the United States wants everybody in other countries to have the freedom that people have in this country. He told her that people in a country called Iraq did not have freedom because of a terrible leader,” Regina writes in the book.

Regina’s mother, Catherine Picut, wanted to do more with the book after it won the contest and asked Regina’s cousin Morgan Starkey, a high school student living in Mountainside, N.J., to illustrate it. Morgan, who has been taking art courses since the seventh grade, agreed and provided 15 illustrations, done in colored pencil.

Mrs. Picut published the 40-page book last month through the nonprofit company she founded, Kids Donate Inc., which encourages children to make blankets for children’s homes in North Carolina.

“There isn’t anything that teaches children about the value of freedom and what it means,” said Mrs. Picut, who lives in Chapel Hill with Regina, Lydia, two sons and husband, George A. Parker, a veterinary pathologist.

Regina came up with the idea for the book after watching several news stories about the Iraqi war. She asked her mother what freedom means. Mrs. Picut told Regina some of the same things Lydia’s mother told Lydia in the book.

“When I was growing up, it was never explained to me,” Mrs. Picut said. “I thought freedom was the most important word to understand.”

Regina came up with six freedoms, such as the freedom to vote and to practice religion, and talked to her parents to come up with another six. The freedoms are listed at the end of the book and include: the freedom of speech and expression, to pursue any career, to be married and to have children, to be educated and go to school, to assemble with others, to live where one chooses, to own property, to travel, to have privacy in one’s home and to protect oneself.

“I think a lot of kids my age should know about freedom,” Regina said. “It’s just as important as math and history.”

Freedom was the most important word used during the Republican National Convention held in New York City last month, Mrs. Picut said.

“We have to protect that above all, above the economy,” she said. “This is more of a conservative book. It’s all about the freedoms we enjoy in this country. It kind of explains why we went to war in Iraq. It explains it to a child.”

The topic Regina chose, Mrs. Picut said, “was extremely unique and quite imaginative.”

“I thought it was a really good idea, teaching freedom to young children. Most children don’t have an idea of what it is,” said Morgan, a 17-year-old senior, winner of several art awards.

Morgan draws and oil paints and mostly works in two-dimensional form, mainly figures, still lifes and landscapes. For the book illustrations, he said, he had to develop a style that would be appealing to children. He used simple lines with solid colors, instead of realism, the style he prefers.

“I feel like it’s almost a problem I have to solve to take a good composition that would work, choose the right colors and choose the right medium to express certain feelings,” he said.

Rita Davis, Regina’s fourth-grade teacher, plans to read Regina and Morgan’s book to her students later in the school year.

“I was really amazed at the continuity of the story and how it flowed and how it had exceptional development to it for a child her age,” Mrs. Davis said.

Mr. Denton notes Regina’s understanding of freedom.

“There was a certain childish innocence, which I like, but at the same time, there was a fairly sophisticated understanding of freedom,” he said. “The child’s voice is maintained throughout the book, but it has that fairly profound understanding of what freedom is.”

“Let Freedom Ring” is available through Amazon.com and is distributed by Baker & Taylor wholesale bookseller.

“Our goal is not to make a lot of money,” Mrs. Picut said. “This truly is so timely that I’m more anxious to get it out there during this election year than anything else.”

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