A trip to the Everglades is just one near-calamity after another in a book created by Juneau elementary school students.
"A Week in the Everglades" tells the story of a father and four sons. The 56-page book, written by nine Glacier Valley fifth-graders, combines their studies in science, social studies and English.
Hence the white-feathered hawk that dives toward one character's head, the growling alligator, the inedible berries, the raccoon-eating panther, another alligator and a too-slow flamingo, frogs, a cornsnake that ate an anole lizard, a bald eagle that ate the snake, and a rattlesnake.
"This place is busy today," one character comments - before the hurricane strikes.
To prepare, students read a couple of books and material from the Internet about the Everglades, said Ted Wilson, one of the teachers, along with Florence Hayward, in the project.
"We had to highlight important plants and trees and facts," said Lauren Davin.
"Of course, when they came across snakes and panthers, they latched onto those," Wilson said.
Wilson guided the students in brainstorming sessions about the plot and did the final edit. Each student wrote a chapter after talking to the writers of the previous and following chapters.
"We had to talk to the person that was before or after us so it could kind of connect," said Maverick Yadao.
Based on a similar book about the alpine tundra by award-winning author Jean Craighead George, the students figured each chapter should be about 750 words long.
That's not much different from the usual fifth-grade report of 750 to 1,000 words. But writing chapters was more fun and forced students to talk to each other, they said.
"In writing a creative story, for a lot of them they're used to saying their thing - 'This is my story and I'm done' - but now they had to expand their story," Wilson said. "I saw a lot more detail from some students than I would have seen otherwise."
A report wouldn't be as much fun, said Lauren, "because you're just talking about ... what's in the Everglades, but in a book you can put in dialogue and make it funny."
"And you can get money out of them," Kristen Dierick added.
The books were photocopied and hand-stapled and pasted into a commercially made binding. Students are selling the 50 copies for $5, some of which will go back to the school to recover the manufacturing costs. Each student gets 33 cents a copy in royalties.
"I had lots of fun," said Tosha Baysinger. "We thought it would be so boring. But then after we started writing the book we got more and more ideas, and it started to be fun to me."
Also writing the book were Brittany Fenumiai, Josh Newkirk, Jacob Pahlke, J.R. Rosales and Rizza Mae Sorianno.
Eric Fry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.