St. John’s students in Brunswick fight odds to publish book

BRUNSWICK — A love of writing, imagination and commitment led a class of fifth graders at St. John’s Catholic School in Brunswick to publish a book.
“I have been blessed with a fifth grade English class full of drive, determination, intelligence, creativity, compassion, and integrity,” said Tiffany Jones, the students’ teacher. “Wanting to make the year meaningful for the class, I found the Samantha Smith Challenge.”
The program is named after the Manchester girl who in 1983 wrote to Soviet General Secrety Yuri Andropov asking for peace, and he wrote back inviting her to visit. She died in a plane crash at 13 in 1985. The program challenges students and teachers to learn about a social issue and come up with a way to educate and share the issue with the world.
“The social issue the students chose to research and share about is mental and physical disabilities,” said Jones. “We then wanted to find a way to convey acceptance and love to all of God’s children.”
The students decided to write a book. They developed characters, formulated a plot, and drew illustrations, creating a fable using animals and their characteristics to deliver their point.
“The students laid out the plot in storyboards showing their animals with what many call disabilities,” said Jones. “After stringing individual stories together, they added the ‘glue’ of transitions and color.”
In the story, each animal finds a way to fit in while appreciating differences in others.
“Once they got started, there was no stopping them,” said Jones. “So I needed to figure out how to get this published.”
Just Write Books, a publishing house in Topsham, quickly jumped aboard. Nancy Randolph, a publishing consultant and writing coach, agreed to help the students. But just as the project picked up speed, the COVID-19 pandemic slowed it down.
“As our entire world shifted to schooling and working from home, I didn’t want to overwhelm the class and asked if they would like to pause the work,” said Jones. “I was met with a resounding, ‘NO, Mrs. Jones, this book has to get made!'”
The class overcame the challenge using Zoom and Google Docs. Randolph helped the students with editing, illustrating and collaboration.
In recent weeks, the book, “Life on the Farm,” was finally completed. Producing and publishing a book is an experience that provides countless lessons. The conditions under which these students fulfilled their shared goal offered a few more.
“These students have learned the lessons of resilience, perseverance, and creativity under stressful situations,” said Jones. “Those lessons should serve them well in their future days.”
“Life on the Farm” will soon go to print and will be available for purchase in local book stores, at the school, and online. The students hope to hold a book signing in the parking lot when the books are ready later this summer.
The moral found in bold towards the end of the book states “It is best to fit in with those who stand out.”