West Manor Elementary students illustrate a book

For many years, Jan Blaskay put her dream of writing a book on hold. The children’s book market is tough, but the story of Samuel Snyder the six-legged spider had her ensnared. So last year with assistance from friends, grants and her own resources, she set about achieving her dream.

As Samuel’s story took shape — it’s a rhyming tale about self-esteem and loving yourself with all your differences — Blaskay wanted to help someone else’s dreams come true. She decided to find a group of children to serve as her illustrators.

The criteria? A school where arts funding may have been reduced. A school still devoted to the arts. A group of willing administrators and kids. And a school that was in the city of Atlanta.

“I was strongly called to find an Atlanta school because I saw some of the wonderful things going on there and I felt a lot of people are not aware of that both in the city of Atlanta and in the suburbs,” Blaskay said.

That school turned out to be West Manor Elementary School in Southwest Atlanta. A community school of 250 students that recently won a grant to revamp their library with 2,000 new books and a video broadcast system. They’ve also been named a high performing school by the department of education in 2013 and 2014.

It was the first time the school had the chance to work with an author and Ms. Sonjia Lewis Gamble, a third grade teacher, was more than happy to guide her 18 students through three months of conceptualizing, designing and completing the illustrations for the book.

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“It was a great opportunity,” said Gamble. “This fit in when we started talking about fiction and publishing. We read a story about illustrations and Ms. Blaskay came in and talked about her process writing the book.”

Blaskay, who lives in the North Georgia mountains, would trek to the school to visit with students and talk about their ideas, though she made it clear to them that this was their project.

Gamble also found ways to incorporate the work they were doing into other areas of the curriculum. When they talked about plants and animals and adaptations and survival in  science, they talked about how Lily the Ladybug could survive even though she didn’t have spots. As they talked and learned, they drew — the saddle shoe wearing spider and the spotless Ladybug, the bee with no bumble and the firefly who couldn’t turn off his blink.

When the books were printed and ready , Blaskay made one last trip to West Manor Elementary, to give each student a signed copy of Samuel Snyder the Six-Legged Spider.

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The students giggled and shuffled into the classroom, thrilled to be back in Gamble’s class. They said they enjoyed drawing and using their skills to help someone else.

“We got to use our imagination,” said Wesley.

“We used team work to get the job done,” said Shelby.

“We got to share everything we did with everyone,” said Laila.

In return for their help, the students are credited in the book and Blaskay has pledged to donated a portion of the proceeds back to the school for art supplies for their art department.

“They were so incredibly creative, particularly for third graders,” Blaskay said. “I could see they love learning and the faculty there is instilling that in them.”

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