A Toledo Public Schools teacher has turned her experiences with her students into a newly released children's book that the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library put on its recommended reading list for October.
The book is Sir Haunz & Gertrude's Great Escape, released Saturday.
The author is Joyce Lewis, a special-ed teacher at Samuel M. Jones at Gunckel Park Middle School.
The book, Ms. Lewis' first, is aimed at readers in the fourth through seventh grades.
Set in the 1970s, it tells the sad yet inspirational story of a brother and sister whose father loses his job in an auto plant in Toledo because of industry downsizing. The parents make an achingly difficult decision: to send the children to live with a relative in Chicago.
Both parents are killed delivering their children in Chicago. The youngsters are homeless and on their own for a while before connecting with their relative and giving the story a happy ending.
Ms. Lewis, 49, said she produced her manuscript at night, mostly between 2 and 4 a.m., with the first draft taking about three months. She then spent the next six months rewriting. She made an over-the-transom submission to Zoe Life Publishing Co., a Christian publishing house in Canton, Mich., and to her delight the manuscript was accepted. She is now four chapters into a sequel that picks up where the first story ends.
Ms. Lewis is a graduate of the former McCauley High School and the University of Toledo, where she was a cheerleader from 1982 to 1985.
Her material came from her 23 years of working as a TPS teacher, during which she has seen children whose struggles are comparable to those of her fictional characters.
When she tested the story on her students, some of them even recognized themselves and told her she had captured just the way they felt.
"They told me 'You have to get this published,' " she recalled.
Library spokesman Rhonda Sewell said Sir Haunz attracted attention there because of its sense of realism.
"We thought the subject matter was so appropriate because of the downturn in the economy," she said. "This is something I think children can identify with. A lot of children's publishing is steeped in fantasy. This contains reality that comes from an educator who is in the trenches with the students."
Ms. Lewis said the book is not overtly Christian, but does deal with values that are shared by Christians and other believers.
Similarly, the main characters are African-American but the book is written for a broad readership.
"I want readers to stay hopeful," Ms. Lewis said. "My message and philosophy are simple: Even though life has trials and tribulations, never give up hope."