By Jason McGrann
Waukee Middle School co-Band Director Mary Crandell spent the past Christmas break writing about an idea that has been brewing for two years. Seven months later, Crandell has self-published a children’s book that is currently available on Amazon.com and the Barnes and Noble website.
The book, Little Miss Mary Discovers Music Outside Her Window, is the first in a five-book series Crandell is currently working on. The premise of the first book is to introduce students and young learners to music. Later in the discovery series, children will experiment with art and music.
"What really sparked the idea was growing up in a band family with parents and grandparents that were band directors," Crandell said.
Crandell grew up in Storm Lake and has been an educator at Waukee for 10 years. Music ran in Crandell’s family as her father was her high school band director while her mother was also a band director.
Despite being a music family, Crandell’s parents wanted her and her siblings to be well-rounded people so they were involved in athletics and other activities besides music.
"Now, being a teacher, I hate to see kids drop out of music and things and stick to just one area like band or sports. I want them to be well-rounded people – I think that is important," Crandell said. Crandell recruited the help of Waukee Middle School Art Teacher Elizabeth Huether to illustrate the books.
"She did phenomenal work," Crandell said. "She started with watercolor and it’s beautiful. She did every single page and did the print in her own calligraphy. We wanted something that would really match the watercolor pictures."
Crandell has spent the last few years trying to think of ways to get children excited about fine arts.
"So I thought, as a fine arts educator, how can we grab those young children and learners and ignite their excitement through music," Crandell said. "I thought that would make a good premise for a book. So I started writing over the past Christmas break and this is what came out of it."
With the first book finished, Crandell has already written the second book and third books. Huether is currently working on the illustrations. The next books in the series will follow natural discovery in the arts from nature, to piano, musical instruments and even art and sculpture.
Crandell has five books planned and may not stop there.
"It may go on from there, I don’t know," said Crandell. "I didn’t want to do just music but arts in general. I wanted to get kids excited and to create art in whatever form of media they want to use."
Crandell is co-band director with Deb Dunn at Waukee Middle School. Together, Crandell and Dunn have turned the program into one of most respected music programs in Iowa.
Recently, the Waukee Jazz Improv Group from the middle school has taught sessions at Iowa Bandmasters Association events. The sessions are for other band directors in the state that want to know about the Waukee jazz program, so they can possibly implement a similar curriculum in their schools.
"They grow through the process. It’s fun to see them get better every year," said Crandell. Crandell and Huether have been working with arts councils and schools in the area to create a 30-minute session to teach to area students.
"We’re getting together with arts councils and working with the school, trying to do sessions with kids and maybe even working with preschools in town," said Crandell. "We’d like to do 30-minute sessions and do the literacy part of this. So we’d read the book and then synthesize it all by talking about the book and would they be able to create music with what they hear around them. Then the creative thinking part of it would be in our sessions we would help them create music from their surroundings. What I’m envisioning is we do the reading, talk about the book and then have them do a musical activity. I relate it to Stomp, how they use non-traditional instruments like clapping, snapping, humming, whistling and stomping. Then we could move into groups and create a song."
Crandell’s main reason for creating the books is the get children involved in the arts as soon as possible.
"The biggest thing for us with the whole series is we’re hoping we can inspire kids to stay in the arts in someway, shape, fashion or form. To be inspired, create and love the arts while being a well-rounded person – that’s the hope. To have kids grow up and appreciate and be a lifelong learner in the arts," added Crandell.
The Waukee Public Library is hosting a book signing for Little Miss Mary Discovers Music Outside Her Window on Tuesday, August 19 from 6-8 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.
Crandell is also working with an area Barnes and Noble store and may have a book signing there this winter.