CANMORE – Once upon a time, a special friendship between Canmore youth and a love for imaginative storytelling led to a bold book-publishing project - even following grim incidents that separated the heroes, their stories will live on happily ever after.
Available in early July at the Canmore Public Library will be 23 picture and audio books authored and illustrated by home-grown talent at Lawrence Grassi Middle School (LGMS) and the Canmore Community Daycare.
“I think they’re beautiful,” said LGMS Grade 5 teacher Stephanie Kish, holding the finished product. “It makes me cry a little bit actually, because I just love that our community built them together. The children in our community, they made something beautiful during a time we couldn’t be together.”
Kish was instrumental in getting the project off the ground and persisting to get the books finished through the COVID-19 pandemic.
It all began last September when her students would read to their daycare buddies.
“They really built this cool relationship,” said Kish.
It led nicely into the Grade 5s storytelling class in the new year, where Kish presented the idea to publish books with students creating the narrative and the preschoolers filling in the illustrative blanks.
“I said, ‘If you guys are this excited about it, I will get a grant and we’ll make it happen,’ ” Kish said.
As brainstorming between the inspired youth began, Kish applied for a grant to the Rotary Club of Canmore to have the books published.
“They came up with everything together,” Kish said. “When you see the books, they’re very interesting. I don’t think people can just come up with this stuff; you need like three-to-five-year-old minds.”
One buddy team, Grade 5 student Laney Murdoch and preschoolers Paige Young and Bella O’Brien, began piecing together The Great Fishing Boat Adventure, where a family embarks on a worldy trip, but gets stuck with the wrong boat.
Murdoch said it was great spending time with the young artists to come up with the story.
“We got to go over to the daycare and read books to them, and then we started making the books and drawing the pictures and adding things together,” she said. “Just getting to know them and seeing and hearing their ideas was fun and cool.”
Little illustrator Paige said her story was fun to read.
“They saw pandas in Paris and owls in Australia,” she said.
Shortly after the stories started taking shape, the COVID-19 virus disrupted the school year – and the world – forcing schools and daycares to close down.
Kish still taught her Grade 5s online, but with no access to the pint-sized illustrators and no word on the Rotary Club grant, it looked doubtful the books would be completed.
However, by being in lockdown, Kish thought it was actually the perfect time to complete the project. Having a young child of her own, Kish thought about the tight connection the students and daycare children had made, and started sending emails and making phone calls.
“I would like it as a parent if someone approached me ... so I reached out,” Kish said.
She connected with the daycare, which brought the idea to the parents to continue the project that would move to an online format. As more and more daycare parents jumped on board to help finish the project, Kish got positive news from the Rotary Club, which donated a $350 grant so the books could be published.
“It still worked out to be a very collaborative project when we were supposed to isolate and not be together,” Kish said. “I think that’s what makes them more special to me. We connected and still finished something together and now we get to share them with our entire community, which makes it even better.”
Tegan Madge, assistant librarian at Canmore Public Library, said it is hoped to have the books available for curbside pickup by early July.
“The Canmore Library has a long-standing tradition of supporting our local authors, so we were thrilled to receive copies of the books that were written and illustrated by some of our local students,” said Madge in a statement. “We love being able to add their books to our in-house collection to facilitate the sharing of their stories, words and ideas with the community.”
Madge added that there will be a tab on Canmore library’s website that links directly to the catalogue so patrons can place a request for them and pick them up.
The Grade 5s added audio to each story, which can be accessed from a barcode inside the books and using a cellphone to take a photograph of it.