Children across the Rio Grande Valley will have the opportunity to read about one of the area's environmental treasures thanks to three student authors and artists at The University of Texas-Pan American who presented their book to local libraries and community organizations Dec. 3.
Nearly 40 copies of the children's book authored and illustrated by UTPA students Bonnie Garcia, Jose Canales and Beatriz Guzman Velasquez were presented to local libraries, Bentsen State Park and Mujeres Unidas. The 17-page book, titled "Little Louie's Big Adventure," traces a Kingfisher's journey through the state park and consists of full plate color illustrations.
The book began as part of a service learning component for Dr. Philip Zwerling's English course last year, which focused on writing projects that would enhance Bentsen State Park. He said service learning integrates meaningful community service with instruction to enrich the learning experience and teach civic responsibility.
"Learning comes first since we are a University, but combining it with service really improves the learning," Zwerling said. "They knew they weren't just writing for me. They were writing for an audience and I think they were motivated to do much more work and a much better job. They knew their work was going to wind up inspiring children. That's the real advantage that service learning brings to the classroom."
Zwerling, assistant professor of English at UTPA, said he was proud of the students for publishing the book and hopes it will raise awareness about the park.
"I think every teacher wants to see their students engage with the course material and do the best they possibly can while making a contribution to the community," Zwerling said. "I think the three of them are going to go on to do great work and their book is going to inspire students in the Valley to do their own work and raise environmental consciousness."
Bonnie Garcia, who is pursuing her master's at UTPA, said they had their audience - the children - in mind throughout the whole process of writing the book.
"Having the opportunity to actually go out and see how we can benefit the community was great," Garcia said. "I hope we achieved what we set out to do, which was to get children interested in the park. If children follow the map in the back of the book and walk through the same path, they will see everything that is portrayed in the book. The book has a connection to someplace local that few books tend to have."
Dean of the College of Arts and Humanities Dr. Dahlia Guerra said she was proud of the students' accomplishments and their act of service.
"The book is a wonderful example of service learning and a project that's related to their community that they are passionate about, so it's a chance for them to merge their writing and artistic talents," Guerra said. "This book is going to be in the hands of children long after we're all gone, so their book will have such a huge impact."
Funding to produce 40 copies of the book was provided by the UTPA English Department and the Creative Writing Program. For more information about the book, contact Zwerling at 956/381-3421.