Two Peru State College faculty have teamed up to show children it’s OK to be yourself.
Kelly Kingsley and Gina Bittner, illustrator and author, respectively, created the children’s story “How Rudy the Rooster Got His Voice,” published by Handersen Publishing in Lincoln.
Kingsley, who grew up in La Vista and taught in Bellevue Public Schools for 26 years, said she’s always loved to draw.
“I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t drawing,” Kingsley said. “I like to do watercolor and draw animals.”
And Kingsley was able to combine her love of watercolor and animals into Bittner’s work.
Bittner, a native of Dawson, Neb. and interim dean of education at Peru State, said she thought of the story based on a true story of roosters she raised.
“My kids were involved in 4-H and they were trying out different animals and so we decided on chickens,” Bittner said.
“Rudy was the rooster that could never quite get his voice, he could never quite learn to crow. Roadie, the other rooster, had no problem at all.”
After creating the book as an example in one of her children’s literature courses, Bittner thought with Kingsley’s drawings, they could publish the story.
“I used Rudy’s example and wrote it down and used photos for the book,” Bittner said. “Probably three years after the example, we talked to a publisher, and the rest is history.”
Kingsley said the idea of the book is to teach children about accepting and embracing their differences.
“It’s about social and emotional learning, persistence,” she said. “It’s got a great lesson on not giving up and continuing to try and try even though what you’re trying to do isn’t coming out the right way.
“In the end, Rudy does persist and find his voice.”
Though she worked as a children’s literature professor, Bittner said she never thought she’s have her own published book.
“Literature has been a passion of mine since way, way back,” she said. “It all goes together — I enjoy writing and reading and I had a story to tell that might help another child feel OK with their differences.”
Bittner said she and Kingsley “really think alike,” which helped with the writing and drawing process.
“We’re both creative in wanting to reach all of our students, and she has this one talent I don’t have and is an amazing artist,” she said. “It was a natural partnership.”
Kingsley said the working relationship with Bittner helped the writing and drawing process go smoothly.
“She wrote such a beautiful story that it was easy to illustrate,” Kingsley said. “We click so well together as professional co-workers. This was another extension of what we do.”
Kingsley and Bittner did come up with some ideas together, such as adding the cow, pig, puppy and kitten characters alongside Rudy and the other rooster, Roadie.
Bittner and Kingsley are also working on another Handersen Publishing story about a child in foster care.
Both Kingsley and Bittner teach education at Peru State, and said it was a big influence on creating this book.
“I’m so excited about it and getting to read it to elementary students and my grandson,” Kingsley said. “It’s fun to hear someone really liked it or it has a place in the classroom for students.”
Kingsley, whose two daughters teach in Bellevue and Gretna, has also enjoyed coming to their classrooms to read to their students.
“It’s fun to go back in the classroom with elementary-age students and make that connection with littler kids,” she said.
Besides the story about foster care the two are working on together, Bittner has plans to extend the Rudy the Rooster series in the future, and Kingsley is working on her own book, “F is for Football.”
Bittner said she hopes readers learn to never give up after reading the story.
“It’s to be able to show children you can do anything, you don’t need to know your plan in life,” she said. “That message of ‘I can if I set my mind to it’ is important.”
Readers can purchase “How Rudy the Rooster Got His Voice” at handersenpublishing.com or Amazon.