The first time Daniela Morales met Francesca, a preschooler in the Tenderloin, she learned about the young girl’s fascination with birds and how she would give them names and make up stories about them. In return, Morales has developed a story for Francesca.
“My story is about this little bird, Francesca, whose family is a family of migrating birds and Francesca’s really scared to migrate,” Morales said. “It’s her first time and she wants to stay in her cozy home. Her family decides to leave and Francesca has to decide if she’s going to go with them or stay home.”
Morales’ storytelling efforts are part of a children’s book creative writing project developed by Ivana Markova, a lecturer in the department of consumer and family studies. Markova’s students have been working since March to develop both the story and the illustrations that will be presented April 29 to children at the Compass Children’s Center.
Compass Children’s Center is an award-winning, enriched early childhood education center that adapts its curriculum in order to meet the specific needs of children living in extreme poverty and homelessness, according to its website.
“(The children) come from the lower socio-economic status families– a lot of them are homeless,” Morales said. “They are underserved, so this project is a big deal for them.”
The non-profit is a part of the San Francisco-based Compass Family Services, which helps homeless families and families at imminent risk for homelessness to achieve housing stability, family well-being and self-sufficiency, according to their website.
Markova said the idea for the project originated from her own preschool observation experiences as a graduate student, when she noticed how selective children are about books. She said the project is a manifestation of the CFS department’s mission statement, which pledges to focus on the contribution to the well-being of individuals, families, and communities.
“Instead of merely talking about contributing, I wanted to bring theory to practice and let our students experience it firsthand,” Markova said. “Many of our students already work with little children. As a result, they understand the importance of this project.”
While writing the stories, students needed to be aware that they were writing for children from multicultural backgrounds while invoking imagination and incorporating children’s interests, Markova said.
In order to give her students deeper knowledge of writing for children from different cultural backgrounds, Markova invited Natasha Yim, a Bay Area children’s book author born in Malaysia, to talk to students about culturally and linguistically sensitive books and her experiences writing for children from Asian cultural backgrounds.
“It’s important for kids to see themselves reflected in the books they read, that our society is not homogeneous and there are other kids like them,” Yim said in an email. “It’s also important for kids to know about other cultures early on, not only that they exist, but all the wonderful cultural traditions, beliefs and rituals of that culture that make up the world.”
The expected outcome for her SF State students, Markova said, is to experience community service firsthand and to develop writing skills to positively impact the life of a child, who in turn, may develop an interest in book reading.
Morales said that the project’s reception had been greeted with enthusiasm by both the preschoolers and their teachers.
“(Compass) teachers were really excited for the stories to come about for the kids,” Morales said. “Giving them something that’s about them is more than these kids can ask for so it is really rewarding.”