When second-grader Joan (pronounced John) Diaz walked into The Den at the media center at Fair Street International Academy last week, his face quickly lit up with a big smile.
He immediately tried to get the attention of friends sitting on the floor with him, pointing them toward the books on a table at the front of the room.
He had just noticed his drawing of Lucille the Tiger had been chosen for the cover of the book on the table. He was a published illustrator — a “surprised” and “happy” illustrator. Lucille, the Brenau University Tiger, is the main character of the book.
His classmates were also published authors and illustrators, with the help of some friends at Brenau University.
The book, “Lucille Shows Kindness,” is the sixth in a series called “Tiger Tales.” Brenau students have worked with local elementary schools to create these books from the children’s stories and pictures, said Tommye Thomas, professor and associate dean of the college of education at Brenau.
Thomas said the annual project began with a grant from Target to increase interest in reading and writing.
“Every year, we have written a different book,” she said. “Sometimes it’s been a different school, but we’ve done Fair Street three times now. This book was with Ana Hortman’s class and they had been studying kindness. They all wrote stories about how Lucille the Tiger could do kind things.”
Thomas’ college students came to the school three times in about a week and a half to help the second-graders.
“They helped them develop their story. They helped with the editing and putting together the book,” she said. “They came over once to get a picture of the class (included in the book) and pictures of the children with the Brenau Tiger.”
When approached about her class participating, Hortman immediately agreed since she knew the project well. A 2014 Brenau graduate who earned her master’s degree there in 2016, Hortman had been one of Thomas’ students who had worked with a class on a book.
“She wanted my class to be involved, and I was honored,” Hortman said. “It’s very rewarding just to see I was a Brenau student once and now I’m the teacher. It’s very exciting.
“This is very valuable to the students,” she continued. “I think it helps them to believe in themselves, to know that they are somebody, that they can achieve things, that they are authors.”
The project started with the second-graders “gathering up their thoughts and ideas that they wanted to write about,” Hortman said.
Once they received help from the Brenau students, the second-graders used their Chromebooks to type the stories.
Hortman, who has taught second grade at Fair Street for the past three years, said the experience has helped her kids.
“Kids love to read, and the fact that they’re seeing their story that they wrote from their little minds and their little hearts into an actual book, I think it’s priceless, especially in second grade,” she said.
During the book celebration last week, all students received a copy of their book, and several read their stories to their classmates and the Brenau visitors. They also talked about what they learned.
Students said they learned all stories have a beginning, a middle and an ending. When asked ways Lucille showed kindness in the book, students responded by saying, “helping people,” “finding things that were lost,” “being a friend,” “showing people how not to be bullies” and “being a role model.”
They also talked about how their stories made them feel.
“My story was about when the little, sad girl was in the park by herself and Lucille showed her a lot of friends,” Ailyn Marques said. “I really did like it because I got to express my feelings in the story.”
“I liked my story being in the book because now everybody knows how I draw and this is my first time being in a book,” Taliyah Emmanuel said.
When asked about the best part of working on the book, Joan responded quickly.
“That I get to see my picture on the cover.”