6th-grader becomes published author

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Marie Godderis/Town Crier
Caitlyn Zhu, 11, displays the front cover of her new book, “The Helper,” featuring a sled dog named Padfoot as the main character.

Eleven-year-old Caitlyn Zhu uses her commute to and from school with her mom as a way to voice her opinions on animal rights, environmental issues and an array of other topics.

“I feel strongly about peace and that animal abuse should end,” the Los Altos resident said. “When I felt really passionate about it, I would talk really loudly in the car about it – and no one would really listen.”

So Caitlyn decided to convey her thoughts in writing. That led her to craft “The Helper,” a book published last November by the Society of Young Inklings.

“I felt like writing this book would help show readers that animal abuse should not be in our lives,” she said. “A book is a better way to convey ideas because you can’t really insult people as much.”

The 275-page children’s book centers on friendship and loyalty, conveyed through the main character – a sled dog named Padfoot. Set during the Alaska gold rush, Padfoot is captured and sold to a master who forces him to work as a sled dog. Padfoot sacrifices his well-being to help the other dogs.

Caitlyn said one of her favorite books, Jack London’s “The Call of the Wild,” inspired her story.

The Nueva School sixth-grader estimated that it took more than a year to write the book – which she worked on every day after school – and get it published. “The Helper” started off as a short story but developed into a book after Caitlyn transitioned to working with a mentor who revised it through the drafting process.

“When we first started, Caitlyn had many, many different stories,” Caitlyn’s mom, Soo Zhu, said. “She had almost too many stories, and we decided to get a little bit of help to just explore that passion of writing.”

The help came from the Society of Young Inklings, a San Jose-based nonprofit organization that works with children with a passion for writing and often gets their stories published.

“It was a really amazing process in terms of just watching her grow as a writer,” Zhu said. “To be honest, I couldn’t support her because she’s a very private person in terms of writing; it’s not something that she would share readily – even with mom or dad.”

Caitlyn said she learned a lot during the writing process and acknowledged that it was challenging to see some of her hard work get deleted during the revisions, but she knew it was necessary to improve her story.

Her advice to other young people who want to write a book? Plan out everything through writing exercises – especially character development.

Caitlyn is now on to her next book, tentatively titled “Silver Wolf,” about a girl in a survival situation and a wolf who is able to enter her dreams. She hopes to publish many more books in the coming years and become a writer when she grows up.

Zhu said 50% of the proceeds from “The Helper” will go to the charity of the writer’s choice and the other half toward scholarships for children who are interested in writing.

“The Helper,” is available for $16.99 at and


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