By DAN EAKIN
Problably no other elementary school anywhere could say that they have 102 student authors whose work has been published.
For the past 18 years or so, Donald Elementary School, where students are known as the Donald Dolphins, has had a program titled “Dolphin Tales,” in which the students write books which are actually bound and published.
Each child who participates in the program writes his or her own book, on any subject they choose. At the end of the year, the authors of the books are recognized at a program called Author’s Tea, and all students who write a book receive a certificate. Some special awards are passed out at the end of the annual program.
On Thursday morning, the school auditorium was packed with students, parents, and volunteers in the Dolphin Tales program for the annual Author’s Tea.
Polly Holyoke, author of “The Neptune Project” and other books, was the guest speaker for the student publication program.
Holyoke said it was so fitting for her to come to Donald Elementary to speak to the Dolphins, because “The Neptune Project” is about a girl who feels more comfortable swimming with dolphins than she does hanging out with her classmates, and about a group of kids who have been genetically altered to be able to survive in the ocean.
Holyoke, who lives in Plano, writes for Disney and her books are available nationwide.
She challenged the students to write more, and gave them some tips on how to write.
She said, first, to become a writer, you have to write. A sign on the wall beside the podium where she spoke stated, “The water doesn’t flow until the faucet is turned on.”
She also advised the students, “If you are going to write, you need to read, read, read!”
She also told the parents, “I can’t tell you how important it is that you read to your children.”
She told the students that often when they get home, they should turn off their cell phones, television sets and other electronics and just take time to daydream.
She said cures for many diseases had come from people who were not afraid to daydream.
She said one way to get an idea for a story, would be to consider the question, “What if,” such as what if children could be altered so they could live in the ocean.
Before speaking to the students, Holyoke sat at a table on the stage and the children lined up with the books they had written and which had been published for her to autograph.
She said she wrote on each one, something like “Nice title. Congratulations on writing your book,” “Nice cover” or “I look forward to reading your book.”
The children have a part in the publishing of their books from beginning to end. They even select the font to be used in the book. Each student author has his or her picture in the book, with some information about the author.
“We want the children to feel their book is as authentic as possible,” said Dawn Olivares, a volunteer who co-chairs the Dolphin Tales program with Erin Charles.
Over the last 18 years, methods of writing and publishing a book have changed significantly.
Now children can write their books on computers or iPads, instead of by hand or on typewriters. Every student has an iPad, but some choose not to use them as tools for writing.
Mary Helen Scott and Tina Cooksey, who helped to start the Dolphin Tales program 18 years ago, were on hand for the event Thursday morning.
“The first year, students did about 12 books,” said Cooksey. There were 102 books this year. About 100 books have been written by Donald Elementary students and published each year for the past several years.
Scott said, “At first, I did the binding with rubber cement, but after three years we got a binding machine.”
Other volunteers in the program help with the proofreading and the binding and provide other services.
There had been an Author’s Tea each year for several years, and then there was not one for several years.
When Olivares became a volunteer seven years ago, she urged that the Author’s Tea be reinstated.
Olivares said, “The awards are not given to the best’ books (because they are all awesome!) but volunteer editors give fun awards to some of their favorite books. For example, some of the awards were ‘Way Cool Cover,’ ‘Art with Heart,’ and ‘Moral of the Story.’ The librarian from Forestwood Middle School, Julie Walton, was our judge this year for Book Of The Year. One was chosen for grades K-2, and one was chosen for grades 3-5. Our winners for Book of the Year this year were Valentina Nava and Xander Turner.”
She added, “This program is so valued by our students, teachers, and parents, that everyone wants it to continue. This is Erin’s 8th year, and my 7th to co-chair the program and our own children are in their last year at Donald, so we are passing the torch.”
Charles concluded the program by saying, “We can promise you there will be a Dolphin Tales next year.”
Michelle Wooten, Donald Elementary School principal, said, “Dolphin Tales is an amazing program. One more reason why Donald Elementary is so special in the hearts of many.”