Throughout last school year a group of WHSAD students worked with the Pilsudski Institute of America, a non-profit Polish-American organization, to write and illustrate a children’s book. The goal was to base it off their knowledge of Polish castles, so Laura Migas-Puch, representative from the institute and project facilitator, taught the students all about these historical castles, which they took notes on, read about, and eventually made into their book. The story follows these two children and a Polish hero, Tadeusz Kościuszko, who go on adventures to castles all over Poland learning about the historical and architectural importance of each one. They meet ghosts, run from attacks, and admire their surroundings. The illustrations are charming and imaginative, and although the style differs throughout the story, this does not change.
Darliza Olivo , illustrator, Alonzo Jones, producer, and Shea Koiner, writer, filled me in on the parts of the process. “First we established our idea of the book, and our main goal which was to educate while also being fun, and creating a different type of book that allows kids to interact with it” (Alonzo Jones, current 10th grader) From there everyone was assigned roles between writing, illustrating, and producing. Each category had further subgroups, for example which artist designed which parts. Some were in charge of just the drawings of the children, some just the castles. Part of this process included taking paper illustrations and digitizing them to incorporate them into the book. This was done mainly through digital art apps, such as ProCreate. Alonzo did a lot of the digitizing, and explained how he’d take a picture of the original drawing, and trace over the important details on an IPad. The next step was choosing the format of the story, which helped allow for such specific tasks.
If you read it you can tell many different perspectives were put into it, so choosing a format that would be best for collaboration was crucial. The story was formatted in a way that nicely blends the different styles to be cohesive and put together. Although collaborating can be difficult, many said the best part of the project was seeing everyone’s individual style. The next phase of the project included learning all the history necessary to the final product, and then putting the pieces together. A rough plot line of the story had to be decided upon before the final draft was drawn up so the illustrating team could begin working. When creating this outline they thought about pieces of history they wanted to include, how they should go about teaching them to kids. From here it was fairly straightforward. From this project the students learned how to work with a team, use their knowledge of a subject to educate others, and manage their time to make deadlines. “This entire project has given me a new perspective on writing and publishing books. The entire process, from conceptualizing to publishing, took so much time and teamwork for what I ultimately believe will be a gorgeous final product.” (Brianny Estevez, current college freshman)
On September 24th, 2023, four participating students attended an event at the Polish and Slavic Federal Credit Union in Greenpoint. The aforementioned students include Shea Koiner, Britney Carryl, Alonzo Jones, and Yusuf Alqaifi. There they spoke to Polish-immersion elementary school students from PS 34 and PS 71, as well as the President of the Pilsudski Institute of America, Dr. Iwona Korga, and the District 14 Superintendent, David Cintron. They talked about their goals for the story and their creative process. Britney Carryl spoke of how she illustrated the character on the inside of the front page to resemble the free and playful feeling she hoped children would feel while reading the story. Alonzo Jones and Yusuf Alqaifi explained how their roles intertwined throughout the process, from design to digitizing. Afterwards the elementary school students were all given printed pages of the book to color on as they talked with the authors.
This project would not have been possible without AP Giovanni D’Amato and Alicja Winnicki, who coordinated the workshops, and created this idea. Additionally WHSAD would like to thank Dr. Iwona Korga for using the grant given to the Pilsudski Institute of America by the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage to this project. And of course thanks to Laura Migus-Puch for all of her contributions. “Working with Ms. Laura and Ms. Winnicki has not only been a privilege but an absolute pleasure, as they helped the project not only be more fun for us all but also provided real-life perspectives and ideas that we wouldn’t have had otherwise.”