It took a long time, but some things are worth the wait.
Ruth Ann Willius started writing “Go Daisy, Grow!” about 10 years ago.
Between that time and this fall, when the book was published, she has shared the story with many children. A retired teacher and parent educator, Willius is a frequent volunteer in local elementary schools and preschools.
Some of those children also shared their talents with her, becoming the illustrators of her book.
The story of a Shasta daisy struggling to thrive in a harsh environment with inadequate care has a happy ending. A child in yellow boots rescues Daisy, transplanting her to a sunnier spot with plenty of water, no weeds or pests. Her new spot is next to her friend, a black-eyed Susan.
While sharing the Daisy story at Central Montessori in Forest Lake three years ago, Willius did an art project with a fifth-grade class. “They produced great pictures,” she said. “That’s when I knew that children could be the illustrators.”
Last spring she chose Greg Krentz’s sixth-grade class at Scandia Elementary to illustrate the book. The students are now seventh-graders at Century Junior High.
“They were really interested in the story,” Willius said, “and they were my critics.”
Every student had a chance to draw, as the class met with the author once a week in May of 2012.
Ten students showed the most interest, she said, and provided most of the drawings. In all 25 students, plus four of the author’s grandchildren, contributed at least one illustration. Some pages have drawings by several children. The names of all contributors are listed in the book.
The image of Daisy losing her petals in a storm (page 21), by Shelby Fitch, took several tries to get just right. The author urged Shelby to think of how one feels in a storm. To capture the emotion and movement required, “she did it over and over and over again,” Willius said.
Before drawing, the class learned the basics of creating a picture book, including format, page breaks, flow, plot line, and theme.
Throughout the book, the faces on the flowers clearly show emotions.
The picture of Daisy as a seed, watching “the roly-polys parade through the dirt and rocks,” was drawn by Annikka Lamppa. Daisy’s expression shows her anxiety.
Krentz said he is glad his class participated in the project. “It fit into my art program,” he said. “They did a nice job. I was very impressed.”
So that his students would understand the idea of personification, Krentz used clips showing the making of the Disney movie “Aladdin,” in which a magic carpet comes alive. That helped them “put some meaning into it,” he said.
The humans in the story are named, and drawn, as feet. The colorful shoes and boots have personalities of their own. An especially powerful drawing of purple heels was done by Olivia Folske.
About the Author
With a degree in elementary education and Spanish from Luther College, Willius taught sixth grade for several years.
Wanting to work with younger children, she then spent 25 years at Especially for Children, a child care center in south Minneapolis. She began as a teacher and worked her way up to director, then developer, and finally manager.
Local parents may know the author from Early Childhood Family Education. After getting a master’s degree in education, she served 10 years as the parent educator for the ECFE program in Forest Lake.
Now retired, Willius spends time with her garden, her grandchildren, and with the school children lucky enough to live in her area.
She volunteers as a Spanish teacher at elementary schools in Scandia and Stillwater, and at the Warner Nature Center and Red Bridge preschool in Marine. She views teaching Spanish to young children as another way of planting a seed for further growth.
She has also volunteered in Guatemala and Nicaragua, and spent one semester as a teacher’s assistant in rural Peru.
Besides nurturing children, the author’s other passion is gardening. In her Scandia garden she grows perennials, annuals, vegetables and raspberries. The sunny space is surrounded by trees and decorated with large sculptures. It includes Shasta daisies and black-eyed Susans.
It was during her years at ECFE that Willius got the idea to write a book. Realizing the many parallels between effective parenting and effective gardening, she saw an opportunity to connect children with the natural world at the same time as teaching some parenting skills.
When parent and child read the book together, the child learns about planting seeds. The students’ pictures of a sprouting seed accurately show roots developing and seed leaves breaking through the soil surface.
On another level, the parent may get a different story, one about providing a good environment for children to thrive. “Good beginnings + patience + knowledge + a loving caregiver = successful growth,” Willius writes in the author notes that precede the story.
What’s next for this project? “It would be fun for kids to put this into a play,” Willius said.
“Go Daisy, Grow” is published by Country Messenger Press, where Willius worked with former Scandia resident Edna Sinoff.
The book is available for $9.50 at Forest Lake Floral, 508 S. Lake Street in Forest Lake.
In Scandia, find the book at Gammelgarden gift shop, 20880 Olinda Trail N., or Prairie Restorations, 21120 Ozark Ct. N. (Both of these stores close soon for the winter months.)
Crabtree’s Garden Gate, 19713 Quinnell Ave. N. in Marine on St. Croix, sells the book, and it is also available at Amazon.com.