Mike Moses Student Illustrates Children's Book

Mike Moses Student Illustrates Children's Book
Posted on 11/02/2017
“River and Hope: A Tale of Two Therapy Dogs” by NISD counselor Emily Taravella“Sometimes when I meet people and read their minds, I can tell they have felt unwanted or unloved just like I used to feel. … When I meet people like this, I give them a big grin. I only have a little bob tail, but I wag it as hard as I can so they will know we’re a lot alike. I understand.”

— From the children’s book “River and Hope: A Tale of Two Therapy Dogs” by NISD counselor Emily Taravella.

Emily Taravella had an idea of writing a children’s book, something she could use as a tool to reach out to the young students she sees as a counselor with Nacogdoches Independent School District.

She had the story… it’s based on her two therapy dogs, River and Hope, that are named in the title. But Taravella needed art to go with the book but didn’t have the first idea where to start. Until she saw drawings made by Mike Moses Middle School eighth-grader Elena Garcia.

Elena, 13, had sketched dogs playing percussion instruments for Mike Moses band director (and percussion teacher) Jacob Weems, who then posted them to his Facebook page. They were perfect, Taravella thought. “When I saw that, I knew I had to find out who did it,” she said.

Drawing and sketching are nothing new for Elena; she won a national contest in Mexico as a child. Her parents - Rogelio Garcia-Cavazos and Irma “Alex” Garza-Neira - have often found her drawing away after bedtime. Something comes to mind, Elena says, and she has to get it on paper..

As luck would have it for Taravella, much of Elena’s experience is sketching dogs.

“They’re my favorite thing to draw,” Elena said.

On Tuesday at Mike Moses Middle School, Elena shared other artwork, including a painting of three dogs and a sketch of another. She has also crafted a sculpture in miniature of her own dog, Roxy.

The first page of sketches by Elena intended for use in Taravella’s book shows River, a 3-year-old Australian shepherd, in various forms of play… jumping, chasing a ball and even dancing alongside a boombox under a sparkling disco ball.

Like any skilled artist, Elena first wanted to see her subjects in person, Taravella said. That led to a visit for Elena and time playing with the dogs in Taravella’s backyard.

“Beautiful,” is how Elena described River and Hope, who are the central characters of Taravella’s story.

Taravella said Elena was able to perfectly illustrate the personality of River. Taravella’s favorite is River dancing next to a boom box, with the disco ball shimmering overhead.

“I thought she captured him right there,” Taravella said.

Drawing is not Elena’s only interest (she’s also a percussionist in the Mike Moses marching band), and Taravella said Elena’s responsibilities must come before any work on the book. “I’ve been waiting a long time for an illustrator,” Taravella said, “so I can wait a while for some wonderful drawings.”

The book will be centered on the lives of River and Hope (a golden retriever), Taravella’s two therapy pets. She plans on using the book in her job as a counselor with Nacogdoches ISD.

Introduced to Stephen F. Austin State University’s Press, Taravella quickly learned the ins and outs of the publishing business. Such as the length of the book - 32 pages, it turns out, is the industry standard. “I had no earthly idea there was such a thing as an ‘industry standard,’” Taravella said.

The central characters River and Hope are both rescue dogs - Hope is deaf, something Taravella says helps her make a connection with young students struggling to overcome their own problems.

“It helps with our special needs students,” Taravella said.

“It’s a wonderful project, and not just because it involves Emily Taravella, one or our counselors,” said Sami Kinsey, NISD Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction. “It also showcases the remarkable talent of a student, Elena, whose drawings will play a vital role in Emily’s book.”

Writing is nothing new for Taravella. She spent 11 years in the newspaper business, working at the Nacogdoches Daily Sentinel. She then moved to Nacogdoches High School, teaching yearbook and newspaper classes before becoming a counselor.

As the book enters the final stages of completion, Taravella is planning her next project, a series of stories about people here in Nacogdoches that inspire others.

“I’m looking for the people who are off the radar,” Taravella said. “Those that are quietly going about their business.”

To begin with, she’s reached out to folks around town that have provided inspiration for her. That’s led her to others. She calls it “following the ripples.”

“It reminds us that we can all make a difference,” Taravella said.

Just like 13-year-old Elena, who’s already got a head start.

PHOTO CUTLINE: Elena Garcia, an eighth-grader at Mike Moses Middle School, shows her drawings of River (an Australian shepherd, on the left). The drawings will be featured in a children’s book about River and Hope (right).