Sunday, September 21, 2014

Festival illustrates importance of kids’ imagination, literacy

By DYLAN LYSEN, Herald Staff Writer | 3/12/2014

Imagination and observation go hand-in-hand, Laura Huliska-Beith said, and they both are the key to reaching dreams.

Huliska-Beith, a freelance illustrator and writer, and 11 other authors visited the Ottawa University campus, 1001 S. Cedar St., Ottawa, Wednesday for the annual Franklin County Children’s Literature Festival, where about 1,000 third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students from across Franklin County got the opportunity to meet some of their favorite authors.

Imagination and observation go hand-in-hand, Laura Huliska-Beith said, and they both are the key to reaching dreams.

Huliska-Beith, a freelance illustrator and writer, and 11 other authors visited the Ottawa University campus, 1001 S. Cedar St., Ottawa, Wednesday for the annual Franklin County Children’s Literature Festival, where about 1,000 third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students from across Franklin County got the opportunity to meet some of their favorite authors.

But it wasn’t all about reading.

Goals and dreams were the topic of Huliska-Beith’s presentation.

“Hopefully by seeing how other people have achieved their dreams, that will inspire them to do the same and [know] that it’s possible,” Huliska-Beith said. “They have the stories. They have what it takes.” 

The festival was developed to help young students understand the importance of literacy, while also teaching them that life and culture exist outside the immediate area, Vickie Hall, co-director of the festival and fourth-grade teacher at Lincoln Elementary School, 1102 N. Milner Road, Ottawa, said.

“A group of teachers thought it was important for children to expand their horizons outside of Franklin County,” Hall said. “To be able to talk to book authors, illustrators, and understand about literacy and how books are created. We just wanted to bring the dream of meeting real authors back to our Franklin County kids.”

Some of the teachers who now are leading their students to the literature festival remember attending the event themselves when they were students, she said.

“Now we are having teachers that are taking their classes that they remember the sessions when they were in grade school,” Hall said. “We think it’s really important to expose kids to something just beyond the borders of our county.”

Bad ideas to great ideas

Huliska-Beith jump-started the students’ imaginations by asking them where ideas come from. Many students raised their hands to answer the question, but one answered with the specific answer for which Huliska-Beith was looking.

“Inside your head,” the student said.

Huliska-Beith told the children she once had a great idea — to go roller blading while she walked her dog. But her dog saw a cat, chased it and caused problems. No one was hurt, she said, but it was funny enough to inspire an illustration. From her bad idea to walk the dog while wearing roller blades, and her good idea to draw an illustration, came a book called “The Book of Bad Ideas.” The book is a compiled list of bad ideas from her family members’ childhoods, along with accompanying illustrations by herself. 

The students next were asked if they ever had an idea they thought would be the best one ever, but it just didn’t work out.

“My older brother made a rope swing and I told him to test it,” Bobby Little, a Lincoln Elementary student, said. “When he was swinging on it, he got really high and the rope snapped.”

Strangely enough, Little’s bad idea was the same as one Huliska-Beith featured as an entry in her book — inspired by her own brother.

Imagination, observation

Huliska-Beith’s main objective Wednesday was to help the students realize they have what it takes to use imagination to their advantage, she said. Imagination includes asking questions, observation, research and trying something new, she said.

One of the books Huliska-Beith illustrated — “Bubble Gum, Bubble Gum” — was developed because the book’s author, Lisa Wheeler, asked herself what happened to the gum her daughter threw out the window while she was driving.

“These are the kind of things writers and illustrators will ask themselves,” Huliska-Beith said.

Imagination and observation mean more than helping students create and tell stories, she said. They allow them to follow their dreams. 

During the discussion with students, Huliska-Beith talked about her experiences in high school, specifically when she took a test that was supposed to help determine her career path. The test told her to pursue something other than her dream job as an artist — it suggested she become a nurse or a bus driver. 

“I was just devastated,” Huliska-Beith said. “It didn’t say anywhere I was going to be an artist.”

But because she had imagination and observation, she said, she was able to deny the life a test planned for her and follow her own dreams. 

After graduating from high school in Omaha, Neb., Huliska-Beith, who now lives in Kansas City, Mo., attended the Kansas City Art Institute to refine her passion for illustration. She worked for Hallmark for nearly 10 years, but quit to follow another dream of telling stories, she said.

Since then, she’s worked on about 20 children’s books, she said.

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