by Sue Ann Rybak
“Ever since fourth grade, I wrote stories only for me, just for fun, but this story changes it all,” writes Germantown resident Maya Anderson, now an eighth grader at Hill-Freeman World Academy (also in Germantown), in her book “C.L.A.W.S the Prequel.”
Anderson is just 13 years old, but already she is making headlines as an anime artist and science-fiction writer. Her book introduces readers to the characters in C.L.A.W.S (Canis Lupus Animaila Woles Sepian), a book series that takes place in 2048 where humans are in a war between two realms and two sets of enemies, Westa Wolves and Rosbeak.
Tamara Anderson, Maya’s mother, can’t recall a time when Maya wasn’t drawing or writing. “Maya never went anywhere without her notebook,” she said.
Maya said she decided to write the book after budget cuts at Lingelbach Elementary School (Wayne Avenue and Johnson Street) left her without her “best friend and art teacher.” Anderson asked her mother how she could make money to help teachers buy art supplies for their students.
“At first she asked about getting a job like babysitting or walking dogs, but I suggested that she think about writing a book,” said Tamara, who is also a writer and teacher. She said initially her daughter thought she “could not do that.”
But after Maya’s mother suggested the idea of writing a prequel as a introduction to some of the main characters and her plot for the series, she began taking steps to make the book a reality. “I’ve been writing this book for four years, and I feel like it’s the right time to show it,” said Maya, who published the book in July of 2014. The prequel includes 45 original illustrations with brief descriptions of the characters.
Some of the proceeds that may flow from the book will support art projects for Philadelphia Public School students and teachers. “I want to save art,” Maya said. “Without it there would be no music, drawing, singing or dancing.”
Recently, she donated two gift cards from Blicks art supply stores to support a Chinese Calligraphy class project at Folk Arts Cultural Treasures Charter School and a film project at U School. Maya hopes to publish the first book in the series in a year.
The book tells the story of Jessica Banker, a quick-tempered teenager who after discovering she has supernatural powers, is forced to train with a hotheaded shape shifter called Grongzodia, in order to defend her home. Not only does Banker risk her life to protect others but suffers discrimination from regular humans who are afraid of her supernatural powers.
Maya has been doing extensive research on discrimination for her book. Recently, she read the book “Bite the Mango” by Mariatu Kamara, which chronicles the author’s experience as a child in Sierra Leone during the 1990s. Kamara was only 11 years old when rebel soldiers, many the same age as she, cut off her hands. “I wanted to learn what happens to children who are involved in war,” Maya said. “The rebels who cut off her hands were kids just like her, and in the book she described how they didn’t care that they were cutting off her hands.”
Valerie Van Pham, an art teacher at Hill Freedman World Academy, described Maya as “an amazingly versatile and creative artist, an articulate spokesperson and philanthropist.” Pham said Maya’s drawings are “intricately detailed and romantically beautiful … I credit Maya’s mother, who is also a compelling author, with giving her daughter wings, but this flight of the imagination is Maya’s own.”
Emilia Rastrick, a teacher at Lingelbach Elementary School, said Maya is not only a gifted artist but a leader and athlete as well. “I love her combination of intelligence, creativity, strength of character and quirkiness,” Rastrick said. “As a student at Lingelbach, she was an active member of the Young Heroes Club. Through her leadership and vision, the club did a great deal of activism and education of their peers about bullying and the school district budget cuts.”
“When I heard Maya was donating proceeds to the school district, I was not at all surprised,” said Tim Riley, a learning support teacher at Lingelbach. “There is obviously, though not explicitly stated, a focus on social justice in her family. Her donation reflects that during this time of brutal and unfair austerity. It is just another example of her maturity. How many eighth graders would be giving away any profit from something they produced?”
Maya’s book is available on Amazon Kindle and Create Spaces and Barnes and Noble’s website for about $16.