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Corona kids meet their star pen pals

Screenwriter Anastasia Traina (l.) and Peter Grosz (back r.), of "The Daily Show," meet with students at PS 16 last week. Photo by Anna Gustafson
By Anna Gustafson

After describing much of their lives to each other in letters, “Sex and the City” writer Elisa Zuritsky and 10-year-old Corona student Sharon Hu said they were thrilled to finally meet each other last week.

The two, who participated in a program run by the Screen Actors’ Guild Foundation and the Writers’ Guild of America East Foundation called PencilPALS, have eagerly documented their experiences to each other over the past school year, allowing them to catch glimpses into a world that was, in some ways, different from their own.

Still, as the seasons passed, the two learned of their mutual love of books and often shared suggestions for reading material.

Sharon emphatically told Zuritsky she should check out “The Warriors,” a series of books the student said “suck you in,” and the “Sex and the City” writer told the girl she should read some Judy Blume, a young adult novelist who inspired Zuritsky to go into writing.

“Getting letters is such an unusual thing these days,” Zuritsky said. “We’re always e-mailing or texting, so I loved getting actual letters in the mail. We’d write about the holidays and the snow. You see someone else’s life in a totally different way.”

Zuritsky, who joined the writing staff of HBO’s “Sex and the City” in its fourth season, and a host of other well-known writers met their student correspondents for the first time at PS 16 in Corona Friday. Students from PS 16’s gifted and talented class were paired with writers as part of PencilPALS, which Writers Guild of America East Foundation Executive Director Marsha Manns said tries to foster a love of reading and writing among children.

“We want to help children appreciate the pleasures of reading, writing and storytelling,” Manns said. “Hopefully, they’re form lifelong relationships with each other.”

More than 30 writers participated, including Adam Brooks, who penned the movies “Definitely, Maybe” and “Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason”; Nora Ephron, who wrote “Julie & Julia” and “When Harry Met Sally…”; and Peter Grosz of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show.”

“It’s always good to make a new friend,” Brooks said. “I was so impressed by what my pen pal had to say. It makes my world a little bigger.”

Vishal Balani, the 11-year-old paired with Brooks, said he especially liked writing to Brooks about the Yankees, of which they are both fans. Vishal said he also recommended that Brooks read one of his favorite books, “Peace, Locomotion.”

Janine Esposito, who teaches the gifted and talented program at PS 16, said her students were ecstatic to participate in the PencilPALS program.

“Some of them had never had a letter before because of the prevalence of e-mails and texts,” Esposito said. “They were impressed adults, especially these accomplished adults, would take their time to write to them.”

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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