Two Fairfield educators, student collaborate to create a book about inclusion

Connecticut Families

FAIRFIELD, Conn. (WTNH) — “One day, we both agreed that we’d like to write a children’s book,” said Cathleen Hamill.

She and Kris Kelso, both educators at Fairfield Woods Middle School, got to work but realized they needed someone to illustrate their idea.

“One of my roles is to monitor the cafeteria,” explained Kelso. “I always saw this student drawing. She would always look at me and smile and show me her artwork of the day. I’m telling you that every day she had another fantastic piece of artwork in front of her.”

So, Layla Aziz — now 16 — jumped in, bringing the teachers’ vision to life.

“I thought it was funny at first,” she said. “I’ve never been asked to illustrate anything before.”

“Layla came in bright and early the next morning with a huge smile ear-to-ear with the character and she said, ‘How’s this Mr. Kelso?’ And I said, ‘Gosh, Layla, this looks beautiful.'”

The collaboration resulted in Grin And Bear It: The Forest of Inclusion, which is available on AuthorHouse.com.

The colorful tale introduces the reader to creatures who are all different but find common ground.

“They all become friends,” said Hamill.

Layla, now a sophomore in high school, drew on a tablet.

“There was actually a lot of progress from where the character started,” she explained. “It was actually done by hand, not digital, and it was only this year we started trying it digital and it worked.”

The book already has a faithful following, thanks to a timely message that resonates.

“I hope this book teaches younger children that it’s OK to look different and not to be scared because we’re all the same on the inside,” said the teen. “If people realize that, nothing else matters, really.”

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