Newtown eighth-grader writes book to benefit the American Red Cross

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Matt Schickling / Times photo – Olivia Millevoi poses with her book, ‘Do you believe in Magic’.

Olivia Millevoi is experiencing a little writer’s block lately.

Sitting in the dining room in her Newtown home, she wondered where her next inspiration will come from.

“Other than far-fetched things that I came up with in, like, fifth grade, I’m completely dry right now. I definitely don’t want this to be the last book I publish,” she said, gesturing to the copy of Do you believe in Magic?, her first book, opened on the table.

Luckily, there’s plenty of time to figure it out. Millevoi is 14 years old, an eighth-grader at St. Andrew School.

Her first work came to her much easier.

Three years ago, a fire destroyed a house down the street that belonged to the Roda family. No one was home at the time, except their dogs. A yellow lab, Rio, perished in the fire, overcome by smoke inhalation. Magic, a black lab, survived by hiding under the sofa. His natural instinct to stay low is what saved his life.

His story of survival also spurred the young writer to get to work.

She and her mother, Monica, discussed the fire and Rio’s death with the Rodas, and brought up the idea of telling Magic’s story in a book. She interviewed retired Philadelphia firefighter Dennis McNeill, who helped her understand the nuances of house fires. She imagined what Magic must have felt, and decided to write from his perspective.

When the impulse to write arrived, Millevoi was at her brother Matthew’s basketball game.

“I was sitting on the bleachers with my iPad typing, and I wrote a good chunk of it then,” she said. “I don’t think I would be able to write it in such a short timespace now. I think too much, I stop too much to think, ‘Oh what do I want to say.’ ”

What she did write was the touching story of “the dog who lived up to his name,” the animal who exemplifies fire safety.

The book is short, but Millevoi seeks to put readers into the story by painting the scenes with words.

“Magic reached out his tongue to clean his paw, a small pink ship in a sea of black,” she writes at one point.

She wrote of him prancing around the house, making “softy piles” from the family’s laundry to keep their scent near. She even wrote of the confusion Magic must have felt when Rio never returned.

Millevoi wrote the book early on, but revisited it over the last year with Frank Murphy, a children’s author and friend of the family. The young author calls him Uncle Murph.

Murphy helped her edit the book, and through the self-publishing process. Millevoi also credited her family, Newtown graphic designer Michael DiFiori for helping with the book’s layout and illustrator Steve Marshall.

For Millevoi, it was never about her. Her main concerns were outward. 

“It wouldn’t really mean a lot if (the Rodas) weren’t satisfied with it,” Millevoi said. “It was their story.”

Millevoi gave presentations about the writing process to students at her school, she sold dozens of copies there and signed them for her classmates.

“It doesn’t feel real to me yet,” she said, smiling.  

In the spirit of the book’s message, Millevoi is donating 20 percent of all sales to the American Red Cross, which so far has totalled over $200.

Giving that back, she said, felt right for her, especially given all the people who helped her succeed.

“It wasn’t just my isolated project, it was a community,” Millevoi said. “Nobody had to get involved with it, but they wanted to. They wanted to support me and help me.”

‘Do you believe in Magic?’ is available for purchase on amazon.com.

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