“P is for Pandemic.”
That’s exactly how the fifth graders at Mize Elementary in Shawnee summed up the past year in a months-long project to write and publish a picture book that memorializes their firsthand experiences in the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Released May 12 on Amazon, the book “P is for Pandemic — An A to Z Student Guide” is based on students’ real-life situations as they navigated the changes brought on by the novel coronavirus, the resulting economic shutdowns and the challenge of remote learning.
Royalties from book purchases support the newly established Mize Student Care Fund, which helps students who need a boost during these difficult times.
As of Monday, May 31, the class had sold 130 copies and raised $308.
Three fifth grade classes comprising 66 students at Mize Elementary, a school in USD 232 De Soto, collaborated on the book.
First introduced in October 2020 by Shelly Souders, the school’s art teacher, the project provided students with lessons on writing, illustrating, graphic design, editing and publishing.
The book ended up being 32 pages long, with a word count of 1,577.
Fifth grade teachers Sabrina Andrews, Suzanne Cox and Trish Orth served as the lead editors for the book.
Students are also sending letters to Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly, Shawnee Mayor Michelle Distler and USD 232 Superintendent Frank Harwood, along with a copy of their book, to share their accomplishment.
Mize Elementary is now exploring the possibility of a community book signing date over the summer.
Lessons learned along the way
Fifth grader Lilly Bowers, who worked on graphic design and matched illustrations to words that her classmates wrote, said many ideas were considered for the back cover, and hers was ultimately selected.
“You can’t always get it right one time; you have to do it over and over again till you can get something you like,” Bowers said. “And… you have to work with other people. You can’t just do it yourself.”
Maryn Reilly, who worked on graphic art and editing for the book, said she felt “very excited to have a published book on Amazon.”
“Now… I’m a published author, and I can have my name in a book, and all my family can see it and I can give it on to my younger cousins,” Reilly said.
Abby Vielhauer, who edited and handled graphic design, also drew some pictures and helped decide content. Deciding what words to take out was really hard, but she’s “very happy” with how it came together.
“It was fun because when I did the graphic design, I got to add the pictures in, and I didn’t have to ask anybody for permission, and when I was drawing, it was basically like creative freedom,” Vielhauer said. “I could draw whatever I wanted, and being an editor, it was really hard work but it ended up being good in the end. And the book is very nice.”
‘Remember… what we went through’
Souders, the art teacher, published her own book last summer, which gave her the idea to encourage the fifth grade classes to embark on their own publication.
“It was such a rush to be able to see your work go from concept to published piece, that I was like, wouldn’t it be really cool if students could have this thrill?” Souders said.
The teachers involved in the project said their students have been resilient and handled the pandemic better than many adults. They said their 1-to-1 digital devices, which the students used as the primary tool from start to finish, were instrumental in completing the project.
Trish Orth added that she wanted to make sure the children remembered these unprecedented times, while also putting a positive spin on it by reflecting on how they had grown.
“I oftentimes reminded my students that I had a grandbaby born during the pandemic, and I kept saying to them, 10 years from now, when he’s reading this book, he won’t know what it was like, so let’s put it in terms that we can remember of what we all went through, because already… you kind of forget,” Orth said.
Cox said the project was also a special opportunity for the fifth graders when so many perks were taken away this year, such as helping open car doors in the morning and helping with school announcements.
Souders said her colleagues did “a phenomenal job” of juggling 66 ideas and development of several drafts for each page. She added that it was good for students to see teachers pivot in unique circumstances.
Andrews said the work was collaborative, with teachers taking notes from professionals in writing, editing and graphic design. In fact, students did much of the editing themselves.
“It was really cool to see how into it they got,” Andrews added.
The teachers shared their pride for the students’ accomplishments in writing, “P is for Pandemic.”
“Probably a moment we will all remember is when Shelly Souders came running out to the playground to tell us our book was live, and that it was on Amazon,” Orth said. “And I know for the kids to go through this process and have that real-life experience of having to work through something and correct it and make it better, and then to see it in published form, it’s precious.”