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Educators, writers reach out through book, website

Marshall Elementary third grade teacher Erica Abel is reaching out to students -– hers and many others — through a new book, the second in a series created by her and her family members.

She’s using the tale of a canine named Minna — inspired by her own Pomeranian mix — to motivate students to help others, complete fun activities and donate food to other children.

Minna, the dog of Marshall Elementary third grade teacher Erica Abel, is the inspiration for the series

Abel founded Whimsical Writers  with a team of educators and family members, including her mother, Shelli Abel, a retired teacher from Caledonia Elementary School; her sister Jessica Abel, a kindergarten teacher at Countryside Elementary in Byron Center; and her aunt Kelly Savage of Grandville.

Together, they released “Minna and the Canine Club,” written by Erica Abel, last year, and released “Minna And the Canine Club Save a Life,” written by Shelli Abel, in October.

 Now they have broadened their focus from sharing the stories of a heroic team of dogs to providing students with academic-based activities during the state-mandated school closure.

Their website, also called Minna and the Canine Club, offers reading, writing and math resources. The teachers post daily activities based on grade level standards for downloading. They often star Minna.

“Parents were emailing me what to do,” Erica Abel said, noting that she wanted to provide fun resources for her students to use. The writers’ goal was always to foster a love for reading. 

“This goes with our vision of supporting kids,” she said. “They all want to be in school. They want a chance to learn.”

It’s also a way to help families, said Shelli Abel.

“We believe that providing daily learning activities to supplement children’s educational experiences is one small way that we can do our part to help,” she said. “Children are our country’s greatest national resource and as an educator it will always be a privilege to help children learn.”

‘Minna And the Canine Club Save a Life’ is dedicated to first responders, which is fitting with those responding to the coronavirus outbreak

Added Jessica Abel, “As teachers, we are dedicated to continually grow and develop children, regardless of being in our classrooms or at home.”

The writers are also donating books to area students, and encouraging others to donate as well. Books are available for $8 (instead of the original $16) on the website to donate to Hand2Hand, which provides food to families in the form of sack meals. Books will be sent home with food.

Erica wants to remind her students that she is there for them, even while they can’t physically be in class. They light up when they see her on the virtual platform. She also introduced her students to Minna during a virtual Spring Break party.

“Just seeing their teacher creates a sense of calm,” she said.  I want, whenever we meet, for it to be uplifting for them.”

She also encourages them to do their own writing — to journal while they are off school.  She tells them, “This is history in the making. You are living through something you can share about.”

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio or email Erin.

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