MONTANA AVENUE — Steve Reifman recently received an e-mail from the mother of a young girl in Chicago who was writing a book report about a newly published children’s story that has generated a lot of buzz 2,000 miles away in Santa Monica.
For the third grade teacher at Roosevelt Elementary School, the letter was an indicator of just how far his book, “Chase Against Time,” has reached since its release in late March, marking the culmination of a nearly two-year journey to find a publisher, all with the help of two former students.
“It was exciting to know someone who I didn’t know using the book for a school project,” Reifman said last week.
The book tells the story of Chase Matthews, a fourth grader at Apple Valley Elementary School, who investigates the mysterious disappearance of a cello that was slated to be sold at an auction to raise money for the music program. A fan of the show, “24,” which in one season takes place over a 24-hour period, Reifman set the story against the backdrop of a typical school day, basing the layout of the fictional elementary school on the Roosevelt campus.
Samantha Hsieh and Natalie D’Amico were students in Reifman’s class in 2006 — about two years after he first wrote the book — when they first learned about “Chase Against Time,” which the teacher read while purposely withholding the identity of the author until the end, hoping to gauge an unbiased reaction from his young audience.
Impressed with the story, which they at the time said was more interesting than the Harry Potter series, the two friends a year later formed the Sam and Nan Literary Agency, meeting with their teacher once a week to identify possible publishers, writing cover letters and collaborating in creating a promotional DVD.
The trio faced difficulty in finding publishers, drawing interest from a few places but never being able to draw a contract. In the meantime, Reifman’s other book, a professional development piece for educators, was released last year.
The meetings became less frequent this year as both student agents graduated from Roosevelt and began attending different schools — Lincoln Middle School for Hsieh and The Archer School for Girls for D’Amico.
It was earlier this year that Reifman decided to contract with a Philadelphia-based company affiliated with Random House, which publishes books on demand when they’re ordered through sites like Amazon.com.
When the publisher was secured, the students decided to focus their efforts on marketing, enlisting the help of D’Amico’s younger sister, who is now a second grader at Roosevelt and a junior associate with the literary agency.
“Samantha and Natalie are still involved when they can be,” Reifman said.
Hsieh today is in sixth grade and occasionally corresponds with her former teacher and classmate via e-mail. She also recently attended a book signing event at D’Amico’s home.
“It’s a pretty great feeling to be a part of this,” she said. “It was a great experience too.”
The book has sold several hundred copies and at one point reached a ranking of 512 among all books on BN.com, the site for Barnes & Noble, Reifman said. The teacher is also planning a number of events around the book for the summer, including a writing workshop at the Brentwood Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library.
“To see it as a finished product was tremendous,” Reifman said. “When I got a copy in the mail, to see it as a whole book instead of manuscript pages out of a printer was a big change.”