Hardly child’s play: Persistence and resolve led to ‘Waterfall Island’

“Don’t let your fear stop you from doing anything,” said first-time author Emma Sumner, 9. “You have to at least try and keep trying and it will happen, even though you might fail at first.”
“Don’t let your fear stop you from doing anything,” said first-time author Emma Sumner, 9. “You have to at least try and keep trying and it will happen, even though you might fail at first.”

The road to first-time authorship is one of surprises, self-revelations and learning.

Take Emma Sumner of Folsom, for instance, a 9-year-old third-grader at Gold Ridge Elementary School. She self-published “The Fairies of Waterfall Island” in August, after working on it for a year (SumFun Ink, $10, 130 pages). It was quite an adventure.

Emma had guidance from her dad, Sean Sumner, a physical therapist at UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento. He had become something of an expert at self-publishing by completing an online self-publishing tutorial and had produced two self-published books on managing back pain. He applied what he’d learned to Emma’s project, guiding her through the step-by-step.

As for the book’s plot: Something has gone seriously wrong in the fairyland Crystal Kingdom, and four fairies – Mia, Hailey, Makenna and Rosey – embark on a mission to restore magic to the island nation. Along the way, they enlist the help of two humans, seek counsel from the Fairy King and Queen, encounter trolls and wolves, and confront the Evil Fairy in her dank castle beyond the Wall of Thorns.

Emma donated all proceeds from the first three months of book sales to the nonprofit Autism Speaks advocacy group. Since then, classes – hers and other classes in neighboring elementary schools – have read the book as special projects. “The Fairies of Waterfall Island” is in Emma’s school library with a waiting list to check it out.

“My little sister, who just turned 6, is trying to write a book, too,” Emma said. “It’s about mermaids.”

Visit Emma at

Q: How did this happen?

A: It started when my dad was about to publish (one of his books), and I said, “I want to write a book.” He said, “If you really do, I challenge you to write 150 words for the beginning of the story. If you can do that, I’ll help you.” (I thought) “that’s too many words for me to write.” But I started writing in a little notebook and by that night I had 172 words. He was surprised.

Q: How long did it take?

A: A whole year for (10,000 words), but it wasn’t an everyday thing because I was really busy at that time. I had hula, volleyball, swimming and gymnastics, and in the winter we went skiing.

Q: Then what?

A: Once I was done with my rough draft, I went over all the mistakes and kind of changed the ending. After that we hired an editor to go over it, and she told me what I could change. Like when I first wrote the story, I had a lot of “saids.” She told me it would be more realistic if I used “told,” or “shouted” or “argued.” She kind of told me what made sense as the story went along.

Q: Where did the concept originate?

A: I said, “OK, I’m writing a book, what should it be about?” The first thing that came into my mind was fairies. At the time, I was reading a lot of fairy books, like “Rainbow Magic,” “The Never Girls” and a lot of adventure books (in the) “Magic Tree House” series. They were examples to me and helped me create a new story.

Q: What about your four main fairy characters? They’re sisters, right?

A: Mia, Hailey, Makenna and Rosey aren’t really related sisters, (because) fairies aren’t really born with parents. They’re born from flowers that turn into fairies. But they’re such good friends, they’re like sisters. As you get older in my fairy world, you and your friends get a house and live together. It’s kind of like how we live with our families in the human world.

Q: Did you plot your story?

A: I never planned it out. I just wrote, wrote, wrote, wrote, wrote. I did plan it one time, but what came out was a totally different story. There were zombies and a zombie mine with jewels and stuff. That all changed.

Q: The fairies go through a portal into the human world.

A: Yes, to them, we seem just as interesting as fairies do to us. We sound like crazy creatures to them. (The sisters) think, “Maybe humans can help us, they sound pretty intelligent.” The fairies don’t trust adults, so they chose two kids, (brother and sister) Jack and Kaylia to come back with them to the Crystal Kingdom.

Q: The fairy Rosey and the human Jack are very timid.

A: The thing they have in common is they’re scared and fearful, and they both end up being heroes. (At a crucial moment) Rosey thinks, “Oh, no, my friends are in trouble, I have to do something about it.” Jack is like, “I don’t know if I should be doing this, but I have to.” The fairies and the humans (grow) a special relationship as they go on their journey.

Q: What’s the book’s message?

A: Don’t let your fear stop you from doing anything. You have to at least try and keep trying and it will happen, even though you might fail at first. If you don’t try anything (new) and just stick with one thing, there’s no point in doing anything.

Q: How are your teachers and classmates reacting to all this?

A: My teacher thinks it’s really cool, and a lot of my friends are trying to write books, too.

Q: You’ve said you want “Waterfall Island” to become a series.

A: I’m working on my second book, it’s a prequel. Remember the fairy Julia in the first book? I want to find out how she became one of the wisest fairies in the Crystal Kingdom. So I went back in time and wrote about her and her friends. I can tell you right now, this time I’m planning out the story first.

Q: Are you in the story?

A: All my characters have something to do with what I do. I love to read, I love animals, I love to do new things. And I can be very fearful, but I try to conquer my fears by just doing it.

Allen Pierleoni: 916-321-1128, @apierleonisacbe

The Fairies of Waterfall Island

By Emma Sumner

SumFun Ink, $10, 130 pages