By Curt Yeomans
Kristie Casler has always enjoyed letting her creativity run wild.
She preferred making dioramas, background scenery for plays, and painting pictures for school projects when she was in sixth grade at E.W. Oliver Elementary School.
She grew up and is now the art teacher at Hawthorne Elementary. Now, she encourages young people to let their creativity run wild with finger painting and drawings of dragons.
Casler, 37, still taps into her own creativity from time to time, though. Casler's first book, "Have You Ever Seen a Llama in Pajamas?," a collection of 18 drawings and rhyming phrases for kindergarten-age children, was recently released by Publish America, Inc.
"Its designed to entertain children while educating them at the same time," Casler said. "They will be learning how to read books, while also learning what several of these words mean."
Casler came up with the drawings and the phrases for the book two years ago, following a rhyming game she was playing with her then-5-year-old daughter, Lindsay, while waiting for her son, Brandon, to finish an after school activity.
The game consisted of the mother and the daughter trying to come up with phrases in which the name of the animal engaging in an activity rhymed with the activity itself.
"Have you ever seen a llama in pajamas?" the mother asked her daughter at one point. Lindsay Casler broke out in laughter after hearing the phrase, and trying to picture what a llama would look like if it was wearing a pair of pajamas.
The elder Casler then got the idea that she could tap into her own artistic skills, while also helping kindergarten-age children learn the meanings of words and phrases.
"I thought it would be cute to see what I could come up with," Kristie Casler said.
Casler shopped her book around to various publishers, but many wanted her to pay a $3,000 fee to get the book published. She didn't want to pay the fee, however, and kept looking until she found Publish America. The only problem at the time was Publish America had a full stable of authors and couldn't take on any one else.
The company's representatives told Casler to hold onto her drawings, though, and they would contact her when they had a vacancy. Last year, they found an opening for the art teacher. She is already working on a second book, which is tentatively called "Why do we go to the art room?," which is geared for children of all ages. The upcoming book currently has no release date.
"It will tell students what goes on in here [the art room], and how it affects what goes on in the classroom," said Casler, who is also the art club sponsor for Hawthorne Elementary School. "I always tell my students when they come in here, they have to leave whatever else is going on in their lives out there. This is their time to express themselves.
"There are so many children who don't excel in academics, but they can come in here and create brilliance. They need to be praised for their abilities."
In addition to the title phrase, the artist came up with other sayings, such as "Have you ever seen a snake eat a steak?" and "Have you ever seen a bear comb its hair?" She drew the pictures first, as they came to her, and then followed up by finding a rhyming phrase to describe the action taking place in the picture.
Ironically, the title phrase is not Lindsay Casler's favorite saying in the book.
"I like 'Have you ever seen a shark in a park?' because it's silly," the younger Casler, now 8, said.
Kay Shelnutt, a fellow teacher at Hawthorne, who also taught at Oliver Elementary School when Casler was a sixth-grade student at that school, said the art teacher has always excelled at projects which incorporated her creativity.
"Am I surprised to see her write this book? No," Shelnutt said. "I am excited for her, though. She's always had the artistic talent in her... Even though I didn't teach her, I still like to claim her as mine, because she's been such a success," Shelnutt joked.