So her mother began reading to Jessica, helping her learn words, what they meant and how to pronounce them.
As a result, Jessica knew how to read when she entered kindergarten last fall at Kelly Elementary in Benton. And last month the 6-year-old was acknowledged for a story she wrote and illustrated called "Lily Goes on a Trip."
Jessica received an honorable mention for her book in the Reading Rainbow Young Writers and Illustrators Contest sponsored by WSIU Public Television and the Cedarhurst Center for the Arts in Mt. Vernon, Ill.
As an honorable mention honoree, Jessica placed in the top eight entries of 422 entries received from students in grades K-3 across Southeast Missouri, Southern Illinois and Southwestern Indiana.
"Most students (Jessica's age) aren't able to do this, but she was able to do it," said Karen Seiler, who is Jessica's teacher.
Seiler learned about the contest through the school librarian Beth Rolwing. For kindergarten and first grade entries, stories had to be a minimum of 50 words and a maximum of 200 words. Stories had to have at least five original, clear and colorful illustrations. They also had to be created on the front of paper and numbered on the backside of each page.
"Very seldom will you be able to find a kindergartner able to do this," Seiler said. "But after I saw the guidelines, I thought, 'Oh, Jessica can do this.'" Seiler offered the contest information to Jessica, who wanted to enter.
"My mommy typed it for me. I just had to tell my mommy what to write," said Jessica, who is the daughter of Joseph and Angelyn Kempe of rural Sikeston.
Jessica also illustrated her book, which she worked on at home and school for two to three weeks.
"She likes to make stories," Angelyn Kempe said about her daughter. "She's made her own books all around the house and does that stuff all the time."
Jessica's story is about a little girl who takes a trip to Utah, which is an actual experience Jessica has had when she visited her grandparents in Salt Lake City last Christmas. Throughout the book, the little girl experiences riding on airplane and going skiing, among other adventures.
"She started to write about Texas, but had a hard time coming up with things to write," Kempe said. "So I told her, 'Jessica, write about something you know. She thought about Utah, and then she knew what to write."
Seiler said her role included encouraging Jessica and providing time in class for Jessica to work on her book if she needed it. Seiler also made sure Jessica's work stayed within the competition guidelines.
Stories were judged based on originality and overall concept, writing style and illustrations. The annual writing contest encourages young children in kindergarten through third grade to stretch their imaginations by creating their own stories.
All honorees received Reading Rainbow backpacks containing T-shirts, videos, books and other prizes at an awards reception April 29 in Mt. Vernon, Ill. Jessica's story including the top seven others and 34 additional stories that received strong ratings by judges are available for viewing at www.wsiu.org.
"She's excellent," Seiler said about Jessica. "She's far above her grade level. She's a well behaved little gal and a loving little girl who enjoys everything we do in class."
In addition to reading, Jessica also likes princesses and ponies, and her favorite color is pink, she said. But drawing is her favorite thing to do. Jessica said: "I'm gonna grow up to be an artist."