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Writing for Wellness: Co-founder Paige Morgan teaches a First Year Seminar at UC Davis

Riya Bansal (left) and Paige Morgan (right) pose in front of their booth at the UC Davis Undergraduate Research Project on April 26th, 2019.

When it came time for my fourth year capstone project, I took a less traditional path for a Pharmaceutical Chemistry major. Despite founding Fiction for Kids (FFK) with Alex four years ago, I had never incorporated it into my college experience at UC Davis. With FFK’s goals in education in mind, my friend Riya and I created a class on writing children’s books for pediatric patients. We combined my experience in publishing children’s fiction with Riya’s knowledge of healthcare disparities from her work in underserved communities. Thus, “Writing for Wellness: Creating Children’s Books to Support Pediatric Patients in Underserved Communities” was born.

In less than a year, Riya and I went through the whole process of creating a class -- finding a faculty mentor, applying to teach, and making course materials. I never really appreciated how much work went into a course until I spent most of my winter break creating lectures on crafting an exciting plot and drafting rubrics for homework assignments. As a first year seminar (FYS), a type of class at UC Davis (mostly open to freshman, but anyone can take them if there is space), we designed our course to give incoming students an introduction to college while exploring publication of children’s books as well as local and international healthcare disparity issues.

The core of our FYS was the storybook project, the final assignment for our class. Modeled after our own FFK teams, our students had the option of working in pairs or individually to write and illustrate a children’s book that incorporated a positive message. We staggered the assignment into an outline, a rough draft, and a final draft of the story and the sketches: at each point, Riya, myself, and other students provided feedback. Depending on the story, we would encourage a student to flesh out the background of their playground sketch or give them advice on how to handle writing a child’s parents. In the end, I compiled all of the books into PDFs, and the top stories were chosen to be printed and displayed at a research conference held in April 2019. We also donated the stories to the Joan Viteri Memorial Clinic (JVMC).

Through teaching our FYS, my love of writing children’s stories for pediatric patients and other children in need grew. Helping our students create a story -- from an outline and pencil sketches to a final draft with fully colored illustrations -- was extremely rewarding. Not only did I expose students to something I am passionate about, but I also became fascinated by their growth throughout the quarter. Through reading our student’s assignments and compiling their books, I saw how the students took our lectures and integrated them into writing a story about a topic they were passionate about. Inspired by a video of children living in Guatemala that Riya showed in class, one of our teams set their story in a Guatemalan village. Another student wanted to incorporate a character with a disability, and wrote about a mermaid with a missing fin. Personally, knowing that Riya and I were able to integrate our separate areas of expertise to produce these wonderful storybooks was one of the most fulfilling aspects of completing this project. With our pilot program complete, I look forward to expanding FFK further into education.

Click through the slideshow below to see some of the covers drawn by my students!

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