Texas law requires all elementary school students to learn about their community, but when 2nd grade teacher Marilyn Phillips looked for a book to anchor her lessons on Fort Worth, there was none. So she wrote her own.
The John D. Spicer ElementarySchool teacher recruited six former students and spent a recent summer touring more than 25 sites that reflect Fort Worth’s character, taking notes and photos at places such as the stockyards, the National Cowgirl and Cattle Raisers museums, a vintage railroad, and local theaters and art museums. The resulting book, published last year, is an illustrated, 63-page guide to the city titled Fort Worth Kids’ View. The descriptions and explanations of the sites are supplemented by asides from the 3rd and 5th graders themselves.
The volume, which resulted in local television appearances for the young authors, letters of praise from several elected officials, and a request from first lady Laura Bush for a copy, has also raised more than $300 for the school’s library through book sales. And it’s apparently filled a yawning curriculum gap: At least six of Phillips’ colleagues have begun using the book to help children learn about local history, art, and social studies.
“The purpose of this book was to help me, as an educator, teach about my community,” Phillips says. “I couldn’t find a book about Fort Worth that was appealing to elementary students.” She adds that the project has also boosted the student scribes’ composition skills. “Children are writers, and it’s just opened the door for them to do that. We hope that this book will encourage students across the nation to write books together.”
The experience has already whetted the publishing appetite of one collaborator. Phillips “put the writing bug in me,” reports 9-year-old Natalie Flores, a book coauthor and now an aspiring autobiographer. “She said we had to write every day, and that just made us better at it. That made me feel really confident.”
“It’s just been an incredible opportunity for all of them,” adds principal Mike Dukes. “They’ve gotten a taste of what it’s like to write, to edit, to publish. [Phillips] has got an incredible ability to find something they enjoy working with.”