ENJOYING THE ELEMENTS
Watching faces pop up on a computer screen is not the same as seeing kids walk
through the classroom door, but you wouldn’t know it by the cheerful sound of
teacher Sheri Towne’s voice as she welcomed 20 or so Seabury students to a very special Zoom meeting Monday morning.
“Hi Caleb. Hi Lizzie. There’s Gabrielle. I see Jai and Te. Wow! So many people on
our screen,” Sheri said.
The students – from Sheri’s first-grade class and Katy Moon’s second-grade class – gathered online to meet two high school seniors from Northeast Tacoma who
published a charming children’s book about an unlikely topic – chemistry.
Anna Gerald, the writer, and Galina Wynkoop, the illustrator, are best friends who
attend the Science and Math Institute (SAMi) run by the Tacoma Public Schools.
Sheri discovered their book, “Maggie Grace Learns About Magnesium,” last fall on Facebook when she was looking for material to help her teach a chemistry unit.
Pleasantly surprised that the authors live so close by, Sheri made plans to invite
Anna and Galina to visit her classroom this spring when she taught the chemistry
unit, but then came the coronavirus and the transition to distance learning.
No matter. Anna and Galina couldn’t have been more engaging in person than
they were on Zoom. Anna read their book while Galina used an online drawing
program to sketch the main character, Maggie Grace, in real time.
The students then peppered Anna and Galina with questions about their book,
about their friendship and about magnesium. The pair repeated their
performance in a second Zoom meeting for our third-graders and fourth-graders
and their teacher Dina Foss.
The book was inspired by a project Anna and Galina were assigned in their
sophomore chemistry class that required them to share information about a
particular element in a creative way.
Anna chose to write a story about magnesium because she loves to write and because magnesium promotes heart health – a concern in her family. The main
character derives her name from the abbreviation for magnesium on the periodic table -- Mg. “It just popped into my head,” Anna said.
After her teachers encouraged her to turn the story into a book, Anna enlisted Galina as her illustrator. The two spent the next 18 months writing and rewriting, drawing and redrawing, until they were finally ready to self-publish the book on Amazon.
Caleb asked them if they planned to write another book. “We have plans for 11
more,” Anna said. Each will focus on a different character who lives on the same
street as Maggie Grace – Chemistreet – and who learns about another one of the
first 12 elements on the periodic table.
“This was a win, win, win situation, Sheri said. “Anna and Galina had a platform where they could share their passions and their book, our kids were inspired to persevere and do great things even at a young age, and the teachers basked in the wonder of such gifted young people.”
After the second Zoom meeting ended, the teachers chatted with Anna and Galina for a bit. “They asked if we thought they should offer more Zoom visits to other groups of children,” Sheri said. “We all answered with a resounding YES!”