The Findlay community has many avenues to develop a knowledge of literature in children, and recently, a couple of gems from the area – Hancock Literacy, a literacy organization to coordinate and support community initiatives that promote lifelong literacy, and the University of Findlay’s Mazza Museum, known to house the world’s largest collection of original art work by children’s book illustrators – have partnered for the Tell-a-Tale story writing contest. As a result, an opportunity for an even deeper educational breadth and partnership is blooming, much like the knowledge and creativity it is planting in the community’s kids.
The contest started a few years ago as simply a writing contest for kindergarten through fifth grade level children who live or attend a school in Hancock County. Participants are tasked with writing 350 words or less in the form of a short story using their own imagination to come up with the topic and storyline. First, second, and third place awards are given for each grade level, and the stories are then printed in a Tell-A-Tale book that goes to all winners, every school library in Hancock County, and every public library in Hancock County.
It was before the 2020 Tell-A-Tale contest that Hancock Literacy staff and volunteers started bouncing around the idea of enhancing and expanding the contest, and it was toward UF’s campus that they looked for help. “We felt we had the capacity to add another element,” said Shannon Andersen, executive director for Hancock Literacy. “Our group thought it would be a great addition to bring the Mazza Museum on board and possibly add an illustration contest.” When Hancock Literacy approached them, the Mazza Museum saw the value of the idea, and, knowing that it would be beneficial for both the two entities and the children of the community, jumped at the chance. “I happened to be judging the year before with fellow Mazza docents at the Hancock County Library,” said Heather Sensel, the Mazza Museum’s museum/education/volunteer coordinator, “and I mentioned then what a great partnership this would be and that it just made sense. The Docents [and I had] enjoyed participating in judging the books but judging an illustration strand made [us] even more excited to be involved.” Sensel added that the Hancock County Public Library reached out to her to create an illustration rubric, and it began to fall into place.
While illustrations aren’t required to enter, any child who submits a story entry for Tell-A-Tale that includes illustrations will automatically have the first one in their story entered into that portion of the contest. Volunteers from Mazza judge the illustrations using the “Mazza Illustration Rubric” and rank the top three illustrations in each grade level.
It’s a match made in storybook heaven, and one that helps many in a multitude of ways. Since Hancock Literacy is a non-profit organization, Andersen said, relationships, including that with the Mazza Museum, are very important to keep its proverbial wheels turning within the community, and building on them is paramount to future success. We have always had a great relationship with Mazza, but through our Tell-A-Tale program, we were able to grow [it],” she added.
“It’s an excellent opportunity for students to not only write stories but touch on the illustrating side by producing a cover art design for it,” Sensel said. “The thing I love the most is someone else could create the cover art allowing the partnership to mimic what writers and illustrators go through daily.”
The contest benefits educators as well, Andersen said, as teachers are able to include it in their daily curriculum and see the stories go from the beginning, through multiple drafts, and into the final draft that gets submitted. The children, then, get to learn and watch their ideas blossom into an actual tangible representation, something that likely gives them confidence and aspiration toward creativity.
Helen Keller said once that “alone we can do so little; together, we can do so much.” For the Hancock County community, the result of organizations working actively together to move toward the goal of educating and inspiring our children in the best way possible is a terrific gift. Some of the greatest young minds are being molded toward, among other things, a love of literature and illustration, by the collaborations between places like Hancock Literacy and the Mazza Museum. It’s a relationship that will no doubt, grow even greater and more impactful, continuing to “do so much” to enlighten the area.