DHS English teacher David Finkle talks to a media center filled with first-graders April 28 when he and his creative-writing students presented the kids with custom-made books. This was Finkle’s fifth year pairing high-school authors and illustrators with first-graders, but the idea came from Southwestern Middle School teacher Kaitlin Dalia and her creative-writing class, he said.

A group of more than 20 first-graders from Blue Lake Elementary School in DeLand were surprised with original picture books tailor-made to their interests. The project is the brainchild of DeLand High School English teacher and cartoonist David Finkle.

The books his high-school students come up with for the first-graders, Finkle said, are top-notch.

“I think some of them are as good as the stuff I see published,” he said.

Finkle started the project five years ago when he charged his creative-writing students with “adopting” a first-grader and making a picture book designed specifically to appeal to their interests. The high-schoolers learn the kids’ interests from a survey the first-graders take with questions like, “What is your favorite color?” and, “What is your favorite animal?”

This year’s class of Blue Lake students were gifted their books, including original titles like “Clark the Shark,” April 28.

The first-graders gathered in Blue Lake’s media center, but they weren’t sure why they were there. Some asked if they were in trouble, but their teachers assured the kids they were not.

When the high-school students arrived, the youngsters were paired up with their older counterparts — sometimes teams of an author and an illustrator and sometimes just one student who did both — and dispersed around the library to read the books together.


DeLand High School 10th-grader Riley Kellogg reads a book she wrote, “The Moon Heist,” to a group of students at Blue Lake Elementary.

One of the groups included Arionna Taylor, an 11th grade illustrator, who partnered with a student named Amber Sipe. The two wrote their book for first-grader Cassie, whose interests include snails, spaghetti and Spider-Man. The resulting book managed to fit in all of her interests, including a guest appearance from the superhero himself.

It was a fun experience, Taylor said, because she typically sticks to drawing anime-inspired cartoon characters and instead had to focus on animals.

Another book was “The Moon Heist,” written and illustrated by 10th-grader Riley Kellogg. Kellogg had some experience with digital art, but not much in writing, so it was a fun challenge, she said.

Her adopted first-grader’s interests included the color pink, cheetahs and that “she wanted to be able to glow,” Kellogg explained.

The result was a book about a cheetah and a clash between the forces of daytime and nighttime. In the end, everyone made up, and balance was restored in the night sky. And the cheetah even glowed, too.

At the end of the experience, the Blue Lake Elementary students even got to keep their books that were professionally bound thanks to funding from FUTURES Foundation for Volusia County Schools and DeLand High School’s School Advisory Council. In total, 23 books were printed, the most Finkle has ever done in one year, he said. The veteran illustrator — with more than 20 years’ experience writing and drawing “Mr. Fitz,” a comic strip about the ups and downs of teaching that was printed in The Daytona Beach News-Journal and The Beacon — even got to illustrate a few himself, too.

All the students had a good time, from the high-schoolers who shared their finished products, to the kids who left with a custom-made book. Alice Moriartey, when she finished reading her book about bunnies running a doctor’s office, exclaimed, “It’s cool!”


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