First-Graders Create THE UNIQUE LINK from Dog Ear Publishing

First-Graders Create THE UNIQUE LINK from Dog Ear Publishing


A first-grade class has entered the world of publishing, creating an illustrated children's book with a lot to say. "The Unique Link," the brainchild of Liberty Park Elementary School teacher Sarah Latdrik and her 24 students, was published earlier this year by Dog Ear Publishing, which offered its services for free. In the story, a first-grader named Lexie loses her confidence and tries to blend in. After some mishaps and unlikely allies, Lexie learns its best to be herself.

Dog Ear and Latdrik paired up last year as part of a two-year writing workshop at the school. Latdrik was teaching kindergarten and had students Skype with mentor authors such as Todd Parr (author of "It's OK to be Different) to learn how everyone is unique and should be proud. Students also heard about "change makers" like Martin Luther King Jr. and Helen Keller. Latdrik thought her students would benefit from learning more about the publishing process after working very hard in the writing workshop, and a Dog Ear employee spoke to the class.

That employee was "was blown away by the students' complex understanding of the writing process," discussing subjects like dialogue and writing strategies, said Miles Nelson, Dog Ear co-founder. Latdrik said her students "did a great job" showing what they had learned about books and the writing process, and she expressed an interest in working with the company to produce a book. "Dog Ear wanted to help the students become real, published authors," Nelson said.

Earlier this year, that goal became a reality. Latdrik moved up with her kindergartners in the fall, becoming their first-grade teacher, and they began working on the book. The process began with brainstorming characteristics for the characters, visualizing what they might look like and talking about the book's message. They built a storyboard to combine their ideas on Post-It notes into a story and talked about character development. Eventually the students told oral versions of their story and Latdrik wrote down their words, adding transitions where necessary.

Students took just as much care in creating the book's illustrations, accomplished with help from art teacher Abby Winebrenner. Background photographs were taken at Liberty Park and Winebrenner's apartment, inspired by the work of mentor author Mo Willems, who illustrated "Knuffle Bunny" and "The Pigeon Needs a Bath."

The first-graders discussed the main characters, such as skin color and the impact it might have on the story, as well as face shapes, and Winebrenner sketched them. Students voted on the ones they liked and drew in the faces based on the characters' emotions. They also drew self-portraits, which appear on the final pages. The drawings were scanned and digitally added to the bodies for the book.

"What an awesome and enriched collaboration our illustrators were able to experience," Winebrenner said, adding that she simply helped tighten their ideas and help turn them into specific physical characteristics, such as their hair and the size of their smiles, helping Samantha and Lexie come to life on paper.

The students' dedication to the project shows. "You can really tell that Mrs. Latdrik's students worked very hard to put this book together," Nelson said. "These young first-graders shared the same passion that our more seasoned authors have for their writing. It was wonderful to see such excitement and the pride these young children had in the book."