Read Across America is a national event to promote reading and is held in honor of Dr. Seuss’ birthday, which is on March 2. On Friday, March 1, a contingent of Oakdale High School students took part in the event and read across Oakdale, visiting the school district’s four elementary schools and sharing storybooks they created themselves.
OHS creative writing teacher Chris Perez, art teacher Omar Salinas, and ROP computer graphics teacher Tim Matthies had their students work cooperatively to produce the children’s stories. The students were the writers, illustrators, and publishers of the storybooks and 28 of them were able to participate in going to each of the elementary schools to read their stories to kindergarten through fifth grade classes.
“This is a good cross-curricular activity,” Matthies said, adding that the culmination of it tied in well with the Read Across America event.
This was the fourth year for the cooperative project. Perez reported that his students started writing the books in September. That writing took about a month because, he said, it’s not easy to write for children. Then the illustrators worked on the books from October through December. After the first of the year, the materials went to the graphic design students who were the publishers.
“The process of writing it at first was difficult,” said OHS Senior Brittany Nelson. “We’re used to writing more grown up style.”
She added how they had to work at writing for children and it helped them stretch as writers.
“I had a story about a panda and a turtle. I read it and fell in love with it,” recalled senior and illustrator Amanda Monschein, adding that she drew the characters slightly cartoonish in their looks. “They’re (for) kids, it’s supposed to be fun…(and) it’s an actual book.”
Nelson wrote a rhyming story called “Ferdinand’s Mustache.” Perez pointed out that her book had a special cover where the art wrapped around from the back to the front cover.
“It was really fun putting all the books together,” said senior Cleo O’Ferrall who worked as a publisher. She also talked about designing the covers so as to try to make the book “marketable.”
Senior Ahmahri Murray both wrote and illustrated her story “Christopher The Something Or Other,” a story about a hedgehog who tried to figure out what he was by comparing himself to other animals in the forest.
“It doesn’t really hit you until you see the whole thing together,” she said of writing a children’s story.
Perez said that his creative writing students were excited to take part in the project; however, after writing their stories, it was hard to just hand over their work and let it go but they had to trust in the process and trust the artist who would put illustrations to their manuscripts.
“Everyone puts their fingerprint on it,” Perez said of the storybooks.
“Each story is an expression of all people working together,” O’Ferrall added.
“I really liked it how it was a team that put this together,” noted Cloverland first grade teacher Leeanne Bentley to the students who visited her classroom.
Perez said that something he really likes about the project is that the students realize it’s something they can do, and they can do it for a living. It’s more than just for the classroom or for a grade.
“Everyone worked hard on the team effort,” he said. “We want them to love the project, not for it to be an assignment-based project.”