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Learning the art and sharing the joy of a children’s book

The Maple Ridge secondary creative writing class share their self published books with students at Laity View elementary
Children in a Grade 1-2 class at Laity View elementary listen to Isabella Connally read her book called Bailey the Bird and her Secret Talent. (Colleen Flanagan/THE NEWS)

Writing a children’s book is not as easy as it looks.

That’s what a group of 15 students at Maple Ridge secondary found out after taking on the challenge for their Term Two creative writing class.

The students – all in Grade 12 except for three in Grade 11 – wrote, illustrated, produced and printed their own books for students between Kindergarten and Grade 3.

To start, teacher Sid Siddique brought in books from his own children’s past for inspiration. The budding writers then had come up with an idea for a plot with a positive message.

“Some of the stories are about being challenged in some way, finding solutions to problems. Some are about being a bit of a bully and realizing the error of their ways and then fixing that to become a better and more wholesome individual,” said Siddique.

“They collaborated on the stories. I’ve got some amazing illustrators in the class, as well, that worked with the other groups and helped them with the illustrations,

Siddique was impressed by the final products.

The students brought their books to Laity View elementary Monday morning and shared the stories.

Ashmeen Brar, Isabella Connally and Grace Robertson, all in Grade 11, said they found it hard come up with ideas that would interest a child.

Connally’s book, called Bailey the Bird and her Secret Talent, is about a bird who finds that all her friends have notable talents, but thinks she has none of her own until a friend points out that she can fly.

“I didn’t really know what kids would be interested in, what would make sense to them. I had to come down to the level of a child’s brain. I couldn’t make it too complicated so the message wouldn’t go completely over their heads. I had to make it simple, but meaningful enough,” explained Connally.

Robertson had to remember not to use big words.

Her book, called Luna and the Quest to Find Kindness, is about a fairy named Luna who wants to get her wings, but needs to find something she is good at that will benefit the world first. In the end, she learns to be kind to others.

Brar’s story is called Swimming and Swinging and is about a monkey and a hippo who teach other things they know how to do, the moral being to try new things and love what you do.

Robertson did her own illustrations by cutting out photographs of flowers and drawing on a face, arms and legs. Connally illustrated her story with simple animal drawings on her iPad.

Siddique said for most of the students, the initial stages of the project was the most difficult.

“Thinking about things like the length of the story, the tone of the story, pitching it at the right age, thinking about the audience. Then pairing it down to something manageable – five, six, seven, 10pages or so,” he said, adding that they also had to think about the attention span of the children.

He said the students learned a lot from the printing process, including the layout of each book before going to the printers.

Kindergarten teacher Lee-Andrea Woo’s class sat silently as three MRSS students read their books in front of the class, including Brendan Choo, who read his book called The Pantastic 4, a story about four friends – Jaden, Jesse, Brandon and Brendan – who find a pan in the woods.

Woo liked the fact that her students learned that it took a long time for the creative writing students to finish the books, that they weren’t written and illustrated in one day.

Laurie Hutchinson, a Grade 1-2 teacher at the school, said her class is at the beginning stages of a writer’s workshop and having the MRSS students at the school taught her class a lot.

“I pointed out to them that in 10 years maybe they’ll be able to come back and do the same sort of think and see where their stories go from here,” she said.

“Plus, the stories, a lot of them have a theme of kindness, forgiveness, acceptance and diversification, and it’s nice for them to see that put into a story written by a student,” Hutchinson added.

Those are themes Siddique says he is happy to be teaching children.

“Seeing the little faces with hands up in the air desperate to ask questions,” he said.

As for his own students, he said it is gratifying to see them taking the project so seriously and relishing the experience of coming to the elementary school.

”It’s something I hope they take away and remember forever and a day.”

MRSS student Serena Spacek reads from her book The Boy Who Didn’t Share. (Colleen Flanagan/THE NEWS)
MRSS student Serena Spacek reads from her book The Boy Who Didn’t Share. (Colleen Flanagan/THE NEWS)
Children in a Grade 1-2 class at Laity View elementary listen to Isabella Connally read her book called Bailey the Bird and her Secret Talent. (Colleen Flanagan/THE NEWS)
The self-published books of the Maple Ridge secondary creative writing class. (Contributed)
MRSS student Melanie Robinson reads her book called Jamie and the Pretty White Cleats. (Colleen Flanagan/THE NEWS)
A group shot of the MRSS creative writing class. (Contributed)

Colleen Flanagan

About the Author: Colleen Flanagan

I got my start with Black Press Media in 2003 as a photojournalist.
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