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September 16, 2012

Cohutta kindergartner wins national writing contest

“Once there was an elephant named Lilly. She dreamed of being a ballerina.”

There’s never been an elephant ballerina before, said author and illustrator Hannah Grace Hammontree, but in Hannah’s story, Lilly continues to pursue her dream until it comes true.

Hannah’s own dream came true when her story “The Elephant Ballerina” was a winner in the 2012 national PBS KIDS GO! Writers Contest. She received first place in the kindergarten division and was one of 12 winners nationally.

Such an award is not new to the family. Hannah’s sister Harmony participated in a one-mile walk last year as part of the Run for God race with the rest of the family, and used that experience for a story titled “My Run: A True Story,” which she entered into the PBS contest. She won a regional award from among more than 700 children from across Southeast Tennessee, North Georgia and Northeast Alabama. Harmony won not only her grade level but the overall prize for the region.

Hannah, a 6-year-old Cohutta home schooler, was overjoyed by the news of her win, said her mother and teacher, Melody Hammontree.

“She took the initiative,” said Melody Hammontree. “She wrote and illustrated her book and entered the contest. I personally thought the story was amazing, but I knew I was a parent with rose-colored glasses.”

She said she was surprised her daughter won because her book was competing with submissions from throughout the United States and Canada.

Hannah’s story was chosen by a panel of judges including “Grammy Award-nominated singer-songwriter Jewel, Grammy Award-winning band Ozomatli, acclaimed children’s author and illustrator Mo Willems and two-time Children’s Book Award author and illustrator Jarrett Krosoczka,” said the contest’s website.

Hannah’s father, Allen Hammontree, a local attorney and a former member of the state House of Representatives, credits his wife for fostering the girls’ talent.

“I am very proud of my wife,” he said. “We love the local school system, but home schooling has been the best fit for our family.”

Melody Hammontree said she builds curriculum around her children’s interests and began studying writing when Harmony saw a commercial for the contest two years ago.

“Each year we spend a week learning about writing and illustration before submitting to the contest,” Melody Hammontree said. “We went through brainstorming, drawing and the hard work involved in writing. It paid off.”

About two weeks ago, Melody Hammontree said they got the call that Hannah had won, but chose to keep it a secret until the family visited the local PBS affiliate, WTCI in Chattanooga, for the official announcement.

“She was very surprised and shocked to receive a hardback copy of her story,” Melody Hammontree said. “It was an amazing moment for our family. We’ll always cherish it forever.”

Hannah said she reads “The Elephant Ballerina” to her little sister Hope every day.

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