After spending more than 20 years teaching, first full-time and then substituting, Daniel and Patty Sparks have spent their first few years of retirement on a new project very close to their hearts.
“We don’t expect to make any money,” Patty Sparks said. “We’re just trying to help kids help each other.”
Daniel Sparks first took up poetry and illustration as hobbies. His students from North Central High School will remember the small line drawings and comics that he would send back on assignments with high marks.
But after the Freeman High School shooting on Sept. 13, 2017, Sparks felt compelled to use his talents for something more.
“I just made a spur-of-the-moment decision: I’m going to write this book,” he said, explaining that although he had never attempted publishing a book, he knew it was something he needed to do.
Educator courses taught by Lori Gibson and Jacquie Bernbaum on recognizing bullying, children in transitional stages and the importance of reaching out to other marginalized children further inspired Sparks to start his project.
“I was a full-time teacher in California for 12 years,” Sparks said. “But while I was substituting, I could be down at kindergarten or first grade on a Monday and the next day I’m working high school.
“And in spite of the fact that they’re completely different ages, you do see similarities between them in the way they socially interact. And that includes wonderful things they do, as well as the not so wonderful.”
Sparks believed that one way he could go about encouraging introspection and empathy in children would be to create a tool that parents and teachers could use as a conversation starter.
“It’s about kindness and compassion,” he said.
So for the next 2½ years, Sparks spent his free time creating the original 20 black line drawings and accompanying rhyming poems that make up the couple’s children’s book.
Next to an illustration of children on a playground, one of Sparks’ favorites reads: “Taking turns is the safe thing to do. It helps us play, it’s our friendship glue.”
Once the material was complete, Patty Sparks stepped in, taking free courses on Adobe Illustrator and InDesign through the Spokane County Library District in order to make their vision of self-publishing a reality.
The time commitment was more than she had anticipated, but when quarantine came, she had plenty of work to keep her occupied.
“I would just sit around all day and work on those drawings,” she said. “It really took me seven months to do all the coloring and all the tinkering with trying to get the pictures to where we were happy with them.”
After using Amazon KDP Kindle Create to compile the eBook, the couple decided to release the book online only for the time being.
“Passing books from one child’s hands to another may not be feasible in the time of COVID,” Patty Sparks said.
As students gradually return to the classroom after months of limited socialization, the couple hope that their book might help teachers “set a positive tone for the rest of the school year.”
“We envision the book will act as a bridge to bring children together for real communication, compassion and, above all, kindness. It is meant to empower children to make a difference.”
To aspiring writers, Daniel Sparks offered the following advice.
“Try not to be so hard on yourself; just give it time, and keep working at it.”
“Take the Bull out of Bully” is available on Amazon.
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