First literary steps

Young authors at Chico Country Day School pay homage to Chico

Fifth-grade students were all smiles while showing off their book during a signing event at Made in Chico.

Fifth-grade students were all smiles while showing off their book during a signing event at Made in Chico.

Photo by Rachel Bush

Get your own:
To purchase a copy of Strolling Through Chico, stop by Made in Chico (127 W. Third St.) or call the office at Chico Country Day School at 895-2650.

During the peak of the holiday shopping season, Made in Chico was bustling with a little extra excitement on Friday (Dec. 16).

In addition to being a go-to spot for downtown shoppers, the gift shop drew crowds for the book signing of Strolling Through Chico, a writing and art project created collaboratively by fifth-grade students at Chico Country Day School. More than 60 young authors, dressed in their finest attire, spent the afternoon signing copies for customers at display tables while describing the artistic ups and downs that came with publishing their first book. As the afternoon progressed, copies flew off the shelves.

“We’re selling them fast, which is a good problem!” said CCDS student Ceci with a laugh.

Strolling Through Chico is the end product of a teaching method that asks students to participate in a research project, with the goal of eventually displaying the findings in a public setting. Most grade levels at Chico Country Day, a public charter school, participate in such a project each semester. This fall, the students in Lorrie Matthews and Staci Yamanishi’s fifth-grade classes focused on narrative writing.

After brainstorming several ideas, the kids decided to create an homage to their hometown. Each picked a favorite spot in Chico and spent the next couple of months researching, writing about and illustrating their ideas. Along the way, they had workshops with local community members, including writer/artist MaryRose Lovgren, founder of Growing Up Chico Magazine. Lovgren encouraged the students to think about creative ways to take pictures of local spaces, which they used as inspiration for their artwork.

The finished product, published in color by CreateSpace, a self-publishing service, contains 62 narratives, each highlighting a student’s memory from a different place in Chico with an accompanying watercolor illustration. Paperback copies of Strolling Through Chico are being sold for $15 apiece, and all profits will be donated to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Each story features an informational section with detailed bullet points about local attractions such as Bear Hole in Upper Bidwell Park, Chico State’s Laxson Auditorium and downtown sushi restaurant Rawbar. The Tackle Box Bar & Grill also gets a shout-out, as author Charlie recounts his memory of eating “weird but yummy food” (he tried their frog legs) during the Chico Breaks the Record musical marathon in April 2015.

Wendy Fairon, director of education at Chico Country Day, says this type of collaborative project demonstrates important steps in educational growth.

“After writing this book, the students were able to see themselves as authors,” she said. “They’re better able to write paragraphs and understand how to use dialogue, and they can own that craft now. And now that they’re able to exhibit their work for the community, they feel the support. That’s one of the major components of project-based learning—to understand the real-world connections.

“Having their book published and being part of the signing process, they can see those connections with the community.”

Students learned about the perks of the creative process, but they also encountered some of its difficulties. The initial publishing date was pushed back slightly, and the classes had to adjust to the timeline changes. As CCDS student Sam noted, even an exciting project takes hard work: “It was fun, but also tiring!”

The book signing was, of course, one of the highlights of the process. The students were all smiles at Made in Chico, eagerly displaying copies of their book and ready to talk to curious customers about the project.

“It almost feels like being an adult; it feels so professional to have a book signing,” said CCDS student Tatum, grinning ear-to-ear. When asked why she had chosen to write about her favorite spot, Big Al’s Drive In, her eyes widened. “Oh, man, they have the best thick milkshakes!”

An equally excited student, Claire, explained that she had chosen to write about Chico Country Day School because its fun atmosphere made the school a welcoming place to learn.

“I wrote about a time in second grade, when Mrs. Masters let my friends and I sing “Let it Go” from [Disney’s] Frozen during a special day in class.” Moments after telling that story, the very same Mrs. Masters serendipitously stopped by Claire’s display table to buy a copy of the book. “I was just talking about you!” said a surprised Claire.

Made in Chico Manager Amy Anderson was excited to hear about the book project and decided to offer the space to sell the finished product.

“Not many people can say they were published at age 10,” she said. And while it’s impressive to hold a book written by such young authors, it’s perhaps not surprising that Chico has fostered a project like this. As a city that thrives on collaboration, creativity and community support, it seems fitting that even some of its youngest residents could find a way to encapsulate the spirit of the town and bring those ideas to fruition.

“Chico is a unique and wonderful community,” said teacher Matthews. “It’s an embracing place, and I think the kids have really understood that better through this project and the stories they’ve told.”