Kristen O’Flarity never imagined her children’s book about a boy who went hungry would be food for thought for some high school students working on a class project, much less suitable for publication.
O’Flarity, a University of Southern Mississippi Honors College sophomore from Arabi, La., produced “Mommy, I’m Hungry” in her Honors English 101 class last fall for an assignment focusing on using research and critical thinking skills to analyze and offer a solution to a complex social problem.
After students wrote their project proposals, they were free to present their solutions to the class in any medium. Some chose documentaries, others wrote songs, poems, or delivered lectures. O’Flarity wrote a children’s book, believing it would bring awareness to the problem and that the profits from book sales could help reduce hunger in America.
Titled “Mommy, I’m Hungry” it is the story of a boy named Toby who lives in a poor neighborhood and whose family has little money for food or other necessities. Because Toby’s diet is limited and has poor nutritional value, he suffers from illnesses and does poorly in school.
But one day a grocery store opens in his neighborhood and he finally enjoys a well-balanced meal with food purchased from the store. The next day, he goes to school and performs well on a math test, and his outlook on life improves. The store also provides jobs for people in the neighborhood, who then can afford nutritious food for their own families.
“I chose a children’s book for my medium because they are impressionable, so it’s a way for them to learn about and embrace an important value, proper nutrition,” she said. “Plus, kids will talk to their parents about it and they’re the ones who can effect direct change in society.”
A double major in Spanish and community health, O’Flarity originally chose to focus on world hunger, but amended that to hunger in the United States after her professor, English professor Kay Harris, advised her to narrow the project’s focus. After conducting her research and analyzing the information, she realized that in a nation as wealthy as America, hunger was still a problem for many.
“In poverty-stricken areas, there are no grocery stores that have healthy food such as fresh vegetables that are important to a proper diet, usually only expensive convenience stores that sell non-healthy junk food,” she said.
Harris shared details with a friend who teaches high school students at Keys Technology Center in Ocean Springs, Judy Dalgo, whose allied health students are producing children’s books about the importance of hand washing to prevent the spread of germs and diseases. Once completed, the students will deliver them to elementary grade students in the district.
Dalgo expressed interest in having O’Flarity and Harris visit her students to discuss how she created her book, from coming up with the storyline to doing her own illustrations and the process of physically assembling the book.
“Kristin and I had planned to drive down to Ocean Springs to speak to the students, but our schedules caused a conflict,” Harris said. “In the spring, Honors College Dean Dave Davies showed me how to use the skype video conference program on my computer, allowing Kristen to communicate with the class.”
Not until O’Flarity spoke to students in the video conference did Harris realize how much her freshman star had put into writing, illustrating and then packaging her book. “Kristen gave detailed, thoughtful answers to their questions,” Harris said, “This is how I learned how much time she invested in the book.”
Dalgo said the class received a grant to produce a total of about 42 books for students in grades K-1 on how to wash hands to promote good hygiene. Once the books are completed, Dalgos’ students will read the books to the students, and then take them to a sink to demonstrate hand washing while emphasizing the goal of disease prevention.
“Kristin read the story to them and explained how she made the book, and my students loved it and thought it was very creative and well-done.” Dalgo said.
“She's close in age to high school juniors and seniors, so their age difference is not that great, but she’s had this experience of being in college and creating a book, so they connected well.”
Ocean Springs juniors Cheltzi Frazier and Tave` Henry were inspired by O’Flarity’s presentation. She plans to meet with the students again soon to get an update on their project.
“What she did was very creative, something we really want to try and duplicate,” Frazier said. “She gave us a lot of good ideas.”
Henry said their book project is nearly complete, but will include some of the suggestions that O’Flarity made to the group. He also concurred with her that a book project is a major time investment. “She said it would take a while to put it together, and it has. But I believe we’re going to be proud of the finished product.”
At last year’s Southern Miss Children’s Book Festival, de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection curator Ellen Ruffin introduced O’Flarity to published authors of children’s books, who critiqued her work and encouraged her to have it published.
O’Flarity plans to continue writing children’s books on health topics, seeing it as a way to advance her career goal of helping people take charge of their physical and mental well-being. She plans to pursue a master of social work after graduation.
“I had no idea this book would get this far,” she said. “It’s just so gratifying that it would inspire people in their own work and to think about an important social issue. Hopefully it can make a difference in other people’s lives.”
Kristin O’Flarity with her children’s book, “Mommy, I’m Hungry” which was an assignment for her Honors English 101 class. O’Flarity hopes to find a publisher for the book. (Southern Miss photo by David Tisdale)
About The University of Southern Mississippi
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