Ava Van Straten Writes, Publishes Another Children’s Book

Ava Van Straten Writes, Publishes Another Children's Book

Elizabeth Rickards, Staff Writer, Advanced Journalism

Senior Ava Van Straten wrote and published a children’s book for the GRACE elementary school system as a project for her Girl Scout Gold Award back in the spring. Since then, she has returned to writing and has started working on a new book as well as working toward becoming an Female Eagle Scout.

Q: Can you give us an insight into what your second book is about and where we can find it?

Parker’s Path is a social and emotional learning book and curriculum on empathy targeted for 1st-4th grade students. It tells the story of a boy who is not very empathetic to his classmate. When his teacher suggests that he needs to find empathy, Parker goes on a journey to find it with the help of his older brother. When they stumble upon a creek in a local forest that is blocked by a beaver dam (and a classmate stuck in the muddy water below), Parker unblocks his own internal empathy path from his eyes to his heart when he understands his classmate’s fear, frees the dam, and helps his classmate. 

This book is part of my Eagle Scout project, with the beneficiary being the Cassandra Voss Center at St. Norbert College, supporting their initiatives. Parker’s Path is available for free to schools and educational programs. I have an email, [email protected], where these programs can email to request their book and curriculum donations. 

The illustrator of Parker’s Path, Lieutenant Colonel Dave Jones, is the Chair of Leadership and Ethics at West Point Military Academy. This is his second book he has illustrated; his first is my book on kindness, Mary’s Heart.

My initial goal with my second book was to fundraise and distribute 1,000 books and curriculum copies, but I raised over $11,000 in funds and donated services.  Now, more than 4,000 can be distributed. So far, over 300 schools will have access to my books representing over 70,000 1st-4th grade students, with books also enroute to St. Paul, MN, the Madison area, Colorado, New York, and California. I even received a call this morning about some schools in Florida who may be interested in them as well. 

Q: What prompted you to write another book?

I enjoyed the journey of my first book, and I knew it could not be just a one-time experience. When looking at possible ideas for Eagle Scout projects, I knew I wanted to do something that would make a difference in my interests of promoting character, social, and emotional skills to youth. When I heard about St. Norbert College’s Cassandra Voss Center’s interest in creating an empathy initiative, I discovered more about a disturbing trend related to empathy. There is a reduction in empathy among youth, a phenomenon inversely related to the rise in technology use, especially smartphones. We learn empathy from interacting with each other, particularly eye contact, and that is reduced when we communicate through screens. Empathy is also a very time-sensitive issue, as there is a potential decrease in empathy during COVID-19 which has also taken away a lot of interactions among people. This book and curriculum are a reminder that empathy is important to cultivate, even though we are living through a difficult time. Given one cannot have kindness without empathy, I proposed that the Cassandra Voss Center could include a children’s book and curriculum for area youth to kick off their future programming. If kids can learn early on what empathy is and why it is important to have, we can all grow in our social and emotional development.

Q: What was different about writing this book versus the first one?

This book was definitely different from my first book. I had a lot more research to do to understand the topic of empathy and how to present it. I wrote 12 different versions of the story until I got it right. Thankfully, the same illustrator and graphic designer agreed to come on board again, so it helped we had already gone through the process together and were able to communicate effectively. But this was a bigger project for both, especially for the illustrator. His work on this one is more complex than Mary’s Heart, and he has over 100 hours in it. We also shared a lot of his mock-ups back and forth as we tried to get the look, age ranges, and color palette correct. LTC Jones is such an amazing artist, and I am lucky he supports my work. This book also provided a lot of challenges because of COVID-19. My printer was delayed because of it, which pushed my whole project off schedule by over a month. However, this also allowed me time to film an online version that was sent out to CESAs 5, 6, 7, and 8 to support virtual learning, and it is also available on Facebook @ParkersPathBook. I was even invited to a meeting with reading specialists at CESA 8 recently to present my work and how to teach my curriculum. This has opened many new doors for me.

Q: On the inaugural class of Female Eagle Scouts, how does it feel? (congratulations!!)

I am not officially an Eagle Scout yet. However, my application is submitted, and I am awaiting my board of review. It feels amazing to look back on everything I have been able to experience in my scouting journey, from outdoor skills to leadership to confidence. I even survived camping in 75 mph winds (long story).

Q: Do you see yourself writing another one?

I could definitely see myself writing more books in the future, and my third book is currently in discussion right now. I would love to write a book on angst and destigmatize mental health among young children. 

Q: Is writing a profession you see yourself doing one day?

I love writing children’s books on social and emotional learning topics, and I have also been enthralled by the business side of the publishing world. I would love to establish a publishing company someday that publishes books about social and emotional learning content created by viewpoints from around the world. Schools are charged with teaching the Common Core, but I think skills like character, kindness, empathy, respect (and self-respect), and strong mental health are important learnings for our world right now. I like to call my work the Common More, and my vision is to promote this. I was lucky to have great support through the Girl Scouts, Scouts BSA, and Catholic schools, but not every child is this lucky and not all school systems have the budget beyond the Common Core. I want to create solutions in a secular, non-political manner that can reach as many children as possible.

Q: Now that you’re a senior, have you committed

to a college yet, and if so what areas of study are you looking at?

I have not committed to a college yet. However, I am looking into schools with strong communications and/or sociology programs (and exploring institutes of educational reform). I am also intrigued by strong business programs.