‘Ollie the Owl’

By KIM UNDERWOOD – Winston/Salem/Forsyth County Schools
Caleb’s Creek third-graders Christina Mack and Keenen King met when they were in first grade. As they got to know each other and become friends, they discovered they have a lot in common.
“He is competitive, and I’m really competitive,” Christina said. “We thought the same way.”
Plus, both are chock-full of creativity. Both really like to dance. Christina likes to sing, and she likes to draw pictures of fashions she imagines. Keenen likes to draw all sorts of things. He draws so much that his mother has a box filled with his drawings.
And, when something inspires them, they stick with it.
That shared creativity and persistence – along with the whole-hearted support of their parents – led to them creating and publishing an illustrated book called Ollie the Owl, which tells the story of an owl who gets separated from his family.
The beginnings of the book were born at Caleb’s Creek Elementary last spring when Keenen’s picture of an owl got Christina thinking about a story.  
That could have been the end of it – fun for an afternoon and on to another creative project the next day. When Christina went home that day, though, she told her parents – Chris and Katina Mack – that she and Keenen were writing a book and they were going to get it published.
“I am impressed at her young age she didn’t see any limits to writing her book,” Katina Mack said.
As adults, she noted, it’s easy to fall into putting limits on ourselves.
When Keenen first drew his owl, he named it Hooty. But they soon decided that name was far too ordinary for the owl in their book. So, they changed his name to Ollie.
Christina’s parents and Keenen’s parents – Scott and Elaine King – already knew each other, and as Christina and Keenen continued to work on their book, their parents decided they would, indeed, make it possible for their children to have their book published.
“The families came together,” Chris Mack said.
The two families self-published the book through a company called Word & Spirit Publishing. The company provided the graphic image on the cover. Keenen’s pictures are inside the book.
Principal Rita McPhatter was delighted to see the book come to fruition.
“It’s a great way to showcase these young folks and what they can do,” McPhatter said.
Chris Mack made a point to say that the creative atmosphere at Caleb’s Creek had a lot to do with making this possible.
“You come into the building, and it’s high energy,” Chris Mack said.
Elaine King is a stay-at-home mom, and Scott King is a software engineer. Katina Mack is a paralegal for the Womble Bond Dickinson law firm. Chris Mack, who is working on his doctorate in public policy and public administration, is an ombudsman for the City of Winston-Salem.
Keenen’s older brother, Kenneth II, also went to Caleb’s Creek and is now a seventh-grader at Southeast Middle.
When the book came out, both students were eight years old. Keenen turns nine this week, and Christina turns nine in December, a few days after Christmas. And, yes, sometimes she gets combination Christmas/birthday presents, which may prompt her to say, “Where’s my birthday present?”
Although Christina definitely wants to write more books because it has been a lot of fun, she doesn’t see that becoming a career. Her long-term plans call for becoming a professional dancer one day.
Illustrating a book fits right in with Keenen’s long-term plans.
“I want to become an artist,” he said.
He clearly wants to become the best artist he can be, his mother said. As part of that, he looks for feedback.
“He is thinking,” she said. “He draws things and asks our opinion about it.”  
As an example of how focused he can be when it comes to his art, his parents cited a birthday painting that he created for Pastor Cherry Teal, their minister at Restored Faith Ministries. He wasn’t going to give it to her until it felt just right, and he kept working on it until it did.
Keenen’s artist genes come from both parents.
Scott King would draw superheroes when he was young, and someone once bought a picture he drew of the Hulk for a quarter. Elaine King paints, primarily abstract paintings, and she and Keenen have taken a couple of art classes together.
Katina Mack is also an artist.
Although Christina enjoys drawing things such as fashions she imagines, she thinks Keenen is the one with the serious talent.
“I will never be that good even if I try,” Christina said.
She focuses much of her creative energy on her dancing and singing. Christina sings in the youth choir at the family’s church – Union Baptist, where Chris Mack’s older brother, Rev. Sir Walter Mack Jr., is pastor.
Chris Mack and Scott King met back when Scott King was coaching a team at Union Baptist.
Christina enjoys writing quite a bit and wants to write a couple more books with Keenen. They’re already working on the next one.
Christina and Keenen don’t care whether they ever become rich from selling books. If they do, though, Christina wants to keep a bit for herself and give the rest to worthy causes such as her church and a children’s hospital.
Along with helping others, Keenen would turn some of his riches into dollar bills that he would use to would fill a swimming pool so he could hop in to see what it feels like to be “swimming” in money.
For Keenen’s parents, one of the joys of all of this is savoring how well he is doing. Keenen was born prematurely and spent the first four months of his life in the hospital. There was a time when his parents didn’t know whether he was going to make it.
“It was a miracle he came through,” Elaine Scott said.

Christina and Keenen will be selling and signing copies of “Ollie the Owl” at the school’s Trunk or Treat event on Oct. 24.

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