Cedar Rapids fifth grader Reese Olalde is a published author, and she’s loving it.
“I’ve always wanted to write a book,” she said. “I’ve been making a lot of stories at home. I really like how I can be creative with them.”
She’s one of four students from Cedar River Academy at Taylor Elementary who researched and wrote an original book, The Wild Weather Week, which was recently unveiled at a new story walk at Reed Park, 618 Seventh Ave. SW, Cedar Rapids.
The pages of the book, which is about the 2008 flood, are printed and displayed on panels for people to read as they walk a path winding through the park next to Taylor Elementary School.
The Story Walk is a collaboration between the City of Cedar Rapids, the Cedar River Academy, the Taylor Neighborhood Association, and the Cedar Rapids Public Library. The Library published the book and gave copies to each of the student authors, and copies will be available to check out from the Library later this summer.
Olalde, who is 11-years-old, said she was proud to see the book published and on public display.
“When we heard we got to publish it, I was so shocked and happy,” she said.
Liz Callahan is magnet school coordinator for the Cedar River Academy.
“We’ve been working with the city for about 18 months on how to build up Reed Park,” she said.
When the idea for a story walk came up, she immediately knew it would be a perfect project for students to help with.
Two fourth graders and two fifth graders collaborated on the book – and next year the two fourth graders will return to write a new book for the story walk. They plan to mentor two new students to help them, so the project can keep going each year with new authors and stories.
Olalde said working on the book in 2020 was a boon at a time when classes were virtual.
“I liked getting to know my teachers and friends a lot more,” she said.
The students worked with the History Center to research the flood, which deeply impacted the Taylor Elementary neighborhood – but before any of these students were born. Researching it gave them a sense of connection with this important local history, Callahan said.
“They were blown away by the photos, by how things looked and how they have changed,” she said.
They then connected virtually with Cedar Rapids author Charlotte Gunnufson, who helped them turn their notes into a narrative. They decided on a theme of helpfulness.
“We talked about how to gather information and winnow it down to something that’s manageable and how to create a journey for the reader,” she said. “I was just so impressed. They were so young, and we were only talking via Zoom, and they were still able to create this.”