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Spotlight Iowa City: Bringing Obama to schoolchildren

BY MICHELLE HILLENBRAND | APRIL 08, 2010 7:30 AM

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Sasha and Malia Obama have an interesting choice when it comes to play time: If they want to color, they can break out the crayons and shade in a picture of their dad, thanks to author Chris Offenburger Walsh.

The Shenandoah, Iowa, native and former Cedar Rapids teacher of almost 30 years originally created the coloring book, titled “Whispers of Greatness: Barack Obama, 44th President,” as a project to help teachers inspire their pupils, she said.

“A great majority of my students were kids who needed to hear [Obama’s] message,” said Walsh, who has also written other books that tailored to her grandkids. “With education, you can look forward to having dreams and fulfilling some of them, setting lofty goals for yourself.”

Inspired by friend and social worker Denise Bridges, Walsh decided to write and illustrate the coloring book about Obama, detailing his life and the road to the Oval Office for the first African American president.

“When you look at coloring books in general, even though you color whatever you want to, a lot of them pertain to whites,” said Bridges. “I thought this would be a great opportunity for students to say, ‘Oh, this person looks similar to me, and I can be that when I grow up.’ ”

Walsh, who works as a test-development associate for Iowa Testing Programs in the Lindquist Center, drew the pictures and wrote the story herself, ran off some copies at Copy Works, and passed them on to teachers. Eventually, thanks to the Internet, Walsh found the orders rushing in from schools in Chicago, Cedar Rapids, and even London. It’s now available on amazon.com for $4.

“Just the power of the Internet — it was phenomenal,” said Walsh.

And now, a personal thank-you note signed by President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama adorns the wall of Walsh’s office.

“The only disappointment was that [the note] was addressed to Mr. Offenburger Walsh,” said Walsh and laughed.

Despite the large number of orders, Walsh — who still relies on Copy Works to help fulfill her hefty orders — manages to add a personal touch to many of the books. Teachers who order them provide Walsh with a class list, and the grandmother will add such personal messages as “Don’t give up on dreams. Dream big” to the inside covers.

“I’ve heard from teachers that students think that’s really cool,” she said.

Cathy Covington, a fellow employee at Iowa Testing Programs, said everyone is proud of Walsh’s accomplishments.

“I think it’s so cool,” she said. “This is a hobby, and she’s really good at it.”

Walsh is working on another coloring book — but the subject, for now, is a secret. While she said the subject matter for her next book is completely different, she said “Whispers of Greatness” could turn into a series, with leaders such as Ted Kennedy among the potential future subjects.



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