Long after her mother taught her a valuable lesson in middle school, a local teacher published a children's book about generosity and selflessness based on her and her mom's experiences.
Rachel Schulte, a sixth-grade language arts teacher at Blair Oaks Middle School, recently published her first book, titled "Anna's Special Gift," under the pen name Rachelle Layne. The story, published by New York City-based Page Publishing, follows a young, poor girl named Anna who gives away her favorite toy during a birthday party.
The story is based on something Schulte's mother, Kathy Stieferman, experienced when she was a child. When Schulte was about 15 years old, she received a used jewelry box as part of a Secret Santa gift exchange. After complaining about the situation to her mom, Schulte learned Stieferman had once given a used present herself.
When Stieferman was younger, she was invited to a birthday party but did not have enough money to purchase a new gift. Instead, she found a half-empty bottle of perfume and gave it as a present. Stieferman described how embarrassed she felt after the gift was mocked.
"After hearing that from her — somebody I love and care about — I changed my attitude about it a lot," Schulte said. "I realized not everyone is privileged and not everyone has financial resources, and this story really reflects that lesson."
After Stieferman told her that story, Schulte wrote "Anna's Special Gift" and was excited to publish the book, saying it was on her bucket list. Schulte dedicated the book to Stieferman to show her mom how much the lesson resonated with her.
Even though the targeted age group is first through fifth grade, Schulte said the book's lesson can be taught at any age. She reads the book to her 2- and 4-year-old daughters and to classes at Blair Oaks.
"I read the book to a group of third-graders, and they understood it to the point where I felt like some kids were even emotionally connecting because I saw some misty eyes from a couple of kids," said Schulte, who also is a Blair Oaks High School graduate.
"I think it's just important for people to understand that people come from different walks of life and different backgrounds and learn to empathize with other people's struggles," she added. "We all have a struggle of some sort, and I think if we can just learn to put ourselves in someone else's shoes, the world would just be a much better place if we understood others a little better."
Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Google Play and iTunes are selling "Anna's Special Gift." SchulThe book can also be ordered at any bookstore.
Schulte is working on two more children's books: "Curly the Cow" and "My ABC Bible Book."