May 30, 2008
Retired Dryden teachers publish first book
Pair at work finishing second book expected to be published sometime this summer
Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Former Dryden Elementary School teacher Barbara Florance, left, and former Dryden elementary principal Paula Thoma have teamed up to form “Imagination Fabrication” to publish children’s books. Thoma writes and Florance does the illustrations.
DRYDEN — A few colorful characters make the rainforest come alive in “Lester’s Special Gifts,” written and illustrated by two retired Dryden Elementary School educators.
Graphics Plus Printing in Cortland published the book, said Paula Thoma, the author.
Thoma, who retired as principal at Cassavant and Freeville elementary schools in 2006, said she volunteered at Cassavant after she retired in June, having worked in the district 30 years, six as principal.
The idea for the book came from her first year volunteering when the theme for the year was rainforests.
“I really needed to think about the rainforests and find an interesting character,” Thoma told the children Monday morning in the Dryden Elementary Library.
From this thought came the idea of a lesser anteater, which she named Lester.
Barbara Florance, who had taught fourth grade, enrichment and remedial reading and math in the district for 29 years, illustrated the book using quilted material. Each book she illustrates has a special book-sized quilt.
“I am not an art teacher,” Florance told a group of third-graders as the students sat on the elementary library floor. “It started with yoga … we took yoga together and I stopped at the quilting store.”
Florance said at the time Thoma was writing poems and fell in love with batik fabric. Florance suggested illustrating the poems with the fabric.
Thoma added the two of them took yoga in Ithaca at the Women’s Community Center.
The duo wrote under the name of “Imagination Fabrication.”
In the story, young Lester is upset that he has no special gifts like those of the characters he meets — the sloth, with algae growing on his fur to disguise him; the frog with the coat of many colors; or the jaguar, whose spotted coat allows him to blend into the background.
In the end, Lester finds he has two special gifts — his black markings have appeared in the form of a “vest” and he finds that his prehensile tail can protect him by wrapping it around a branch to avoid predators.
Thoma said she revised her story seven or eight times on the computer and had also scratched out some versions on paper. Teachers helped edit the book, she said, which was published in fall 2007, about one year after she started writing it. “It takes forever,” said Thoma.
Thoma and Florance paid for the printing of 500 copies of the book, Thoma said.
Florance said she made the quilt and fabric pieces then took pictures of the artwork.
“I liked the creative illustrations in the book,” said Leanne Russo, a third-grader.
A fellow third-grader Elim Schenck said he liked the part when the anteater met the frog. “I liked the colors of the frog,” he said, referring to a pattern of greens and blues in the frog’s coat.
Thoma and Florance have also written a second book called “Marla Tries Bling,” about a manatee that wants to be a mermaid. Thoma said they expect to publish the book this summer.
Her friends bring her bling — jewelry and other accessories —but she ends up getting tangled up in this and finds out it is much better to be herself. A third book on frogs is also planned and Florance has the miniature quilt already made for it.
Thoma said she has found writing books for children challenging because there is always something that could be changed in retrospect.
“It’s never right. You always see something you want to change in reaction to a child reading it,” Thoma said.
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