Local teacher pens book about the life of pencil

By Donna Hill
For the Fort Bend Star

Kelli Martin holds her new book “A School Year In The Life Of A Pencil.” (Submitted photo)

A simple pencil is an integral part of every school kid’s busy year.

They travel in backpacks, cases and sometimes together with erasers. For Fort Bend County resident Kellie Martin, there’s a story in those pencils.

She should know. After all, she is a teacher.

Martin recently wrote a book, “A School Year In The Life Of A Pencil” (available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble) It is written from the pencil’s point of view, highlighting experiences from September to June.

According to Martin, the book “follows the school year of a pencil owned by an elementary school student named Howie, the little boy who owns the pencil. Every month the pencil faces a new challenge, like being sharpened for the first time, or being chewed on by Howie. My hope is that kid’s see being a pencil isn’t an easy task.”

Martin, originally from Massachusetts, has lived in Sugar Land for 21 years.

“I’ve taught third grade for 23 years, including Alief ISD, Fort Bend ISD and and La Marque ISD,” she said.

This year she will be teaching second grade at Faith West Academy in Katy. Martin, an award-winning teacher, including being named Teacher of the Year in 2014, was selected as a statewide semifinalist in the H-E-B Excellence in Education Awards in 2007, and selected for Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers in 2005, 2006, and 2007.

The inspiration for her books, Martin said, is her students.

“The book began as a writing assignment for my third grade students. I wanted the students to see things from another perspective, so I asked them to choose an object and write a journal entry from that object’s point of view. I used a pencil as my example for the students. Later, I decided to take what I had written and write it in a rhyming format. It eventually became my book,” she said.

Although it might appear the school assignment turned book deal happened during one class assignment, Martin is quick to point out she has always wanted to write a children’s book.

“It’s been a dream of mine for as long as I can remember,” she said.

Armed with her desire to publish, she went to the internet and searched for independent publishing companies, pitched to about 20 of them, and eventually found Mascot Books.

“They liked my idea and decided to have my book published. It took about six months, from start to finish, for the book to become a reality,” she said.

Martin said she enjoyed the entire process of preparing her book for publication.

“It was great to see what went in to publishing a book, and I liked that I had a lot of control during publishing. I submitted my first draft, the editor made changes. I told her the changes I liked and asked her if I could keep other things a certain way. So we went back and forth on the writing for a while,” she said.

Choosing an illustrator was one of the highlights of the project, added Martin.

“I was given about 60 different images from various children’s illustrators. Then narrowed it down to four or five illustrators and found out who was available and if any were interested in illustrating the project. Those illustrators sent me a test sketch of the first page of my book,” she said.

How did she make the final decision?

“The book is really about the pencil, so I looked at the illustrator who focused in on the main topic – the pencil,” she said. “The illustrator I choose is Romney Vasquez. He did an excellent job and it was exactly what I envisioned.”

Her exact vision for the illustrator to create was for each page to reflect the weather during the school year in southeast Texas. It’s written in a month format so there are 10 months within the book, with a total of 20 pages.

“I didn’t want snow in the background or have the kids wear coats and hats, because I live in Sugar Land. There was a lot of back and forth with the illustrators too, but it was great because all editing was done via email,” Martin said.

She put many personal aspects in the story while working with the illustrator. In the classroom illustration for the month of September, there is a teacher’s name on the board, and her name is Miss Conley “who happens to be my sister, and also a teacher.” On another page, there are names of the boys and girls in the classroom. Those are all the names of her family members.

“And the main character in the story – Howie – (named after her father) is pictured wearing different shirts, and the shirt has the name of a school mascot. All the mascots have a special meaning to me, like the shirt that says Bears, because my son goes to Baylor. And because my daughter goes to River Oaks Baptist School, there are shirts which have the Raiders as a mascot,” she said.

Martin is hopeful area school districts will be reading her material, along with students and their parents. Her plan is to do author visits at elementary schools, in addition to book signings in Fort Bend ISD.

“I’d like to go in and read my books to the students in person. I’ve created a Power Point presentation too, so I can talk about how I got my book published,” she said.

Martin, a graduate of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, has a degree in elementary education and found her path to Texas via a job fair. After graduation, Martin noticed there were long lines for teacher applicants for the Boston area. But she noticed there were no long lines for the application process to teach at Texas schools.

“I thought ‘let me just go and get a practice interview in,’ because it was my first time interviewing for a job after graduation, and I was a little nervous. I interviewed with Alief ISD at the job fair, and they hired me on the spot,” she said. “I moved here, met my husband here, started a family and never moved back.”

Because of her teaching schedule, she is able to visit her family in New England each summer.

Other books coming up from Martin include “S is for Sugar Land.”

“I’ve written it but have not published it yet. ‘S is for Sugar Land’ is an alphabet book and also in a rhyming format. The book focuses on the highlights in the City of Sugar Land,” she said.

She’s written another book, “The School Year In The Life Of A Backpack,” based on the same idea as the pencil book.

Martin currently resides in Sugar Land, with her husband, two children, two cats, and one dog.

“I love to write and poetry is my favorite form of writing,” she said. “I have a lot of things I’ve written through the years and I really believed I could put them into a book one day. It’s been an exciting journey.”

(“A School Year In The Life Of A Pencil” is available for $15 through Amazon and Barnes and Noble websites and at Martin’s website, www.kellimartin.org. For autographed books, email her at jkmartin33@comcast.net.)

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