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Way to Go: Writer Samantha Lao of Dix Hills

Samantha Lao, a fourth-grader at Chestnut Hill Elementary School in Dix Hills, has combined the two things she loves most: pandas and writing.

In September, Samantha self-published a children's book, "The Scared Panda," that she wrote in a writing class she took at the Art League of Long Island.

A portion of the book's profits will benefit Pandas International, a nonprofit organization dedicated to saving the pandas.

"When I was 6, I picked out a giant panda at Toys R Us and I've loved them since," said Samantha, 9, who said the 16-page book is about a panda that battles a fear of heights. "He gets on the back of a friend that's a Pegasus and he gets scared as they go higher." To promote the book, she signed copies at Barnes & Noble in Huntington Station and did readings at Phillips Avenue Elementary School in Riverhead and the Glen Cove Senior Center.

"We've been told on multiple occasions that Samantha has inspired other children to write," said her father, Roger. "She's shown that they can succeed in pursuing their dreams."

Samantha is a member of her school chorus and ice skates in her spare time.

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