Award-winning children's author Sneed Collard III doesn't scare easily, considering his face-to-face encounters with some downright dangerous animals.
But he shied away from his role in an ambitious county-wide elementary school project that Strawberry Park media specialist Sherry Holland credited him with inspiring.
"I hope my major purpose is just to add a spark to all the wonderful, hard work they're doing," Collard said last week during a visit to Strawberry Park Elementary School, where he helped kic koff the multi-school project.
Though Collard is the author of more than 30 children's books on nature and the environment, one of his newest books -- "B is for Big Sky Country: A Montana Alphabet" -- inspired a countywide project to create ABC books about Routt County.
The project, organized by Holland, will involve elementary students from South Routt Elementary School in Yampa, Hayden Valley Elementary School and Strawberry Park.
"The goal is to explore and understand more about our communities," Holland said Wednesday. "It's important for the kids to understand our community and the roles they play in it."
Each of the schools will create a Routt County ABC book of its own through research techniques presented by Collard and expanded upon by individual classroom teachers. Each book will emphasize wildlife, geography, people and history, but how each class, grade level and school approaches the project will be up to the students and teachers, Holland said.
"We don't know what it's going to look like yet," Holland said. "We're all working individually."
Once the books are completed and distributed among the schools, students will be able to see how their peers in surrounding communities view Routt County, and what differences and similarities those views expose.
"We're probably going to find we have a lot more in common than (in) difference," Holland said.
The visit by Collard to all three participating schools was an ideal way to begin the four-month-long project because his are non-fiction works that engage kids through well-organized ideas, detail and description, Holland said.
Non-fiction books, contrary to the beliefs of many parents, are as popular with children as their fiction counterparts, according to Holland and South Routt Elementary teacher Gay Linke. The extensive research non-fiction authors conduct before writing will be an essential aspect of the project.
Students will learn to use sources such as the Internet, books, magazines, personal interviews and first-person observations to gather accurate information on the subjects they will write about.
"For so many kids, going to the Internet is such an easy answer," Linke said. "It's so important for them to learn how to use different sources."
And, Holland said, the project is aligned with school curriculum and will address nearly all content standards areas.
The schools hope the books will be completed by May 7. Accompanying the books will be a mixed-media mural reflecting a visual representation of each community.
"We're hitting as many aspects of our curriculum as we can and getting kids excited about things so important to their learning," Holland said.
Strawberry Park fourth-graders certainly were excited Wednesday, when Collard showed them slides of bioluminescent sea animals -- ones that create their own light -- that he saw firsthand during deep sea dives with a renowned marine biologist.
"One of the most exciting things to do in life is to learn," Collard told the students.
"Kids are natural learners," he said later. "But it's important to remind them learning is a lifelong project."
Collard, Holland and others hope this project in particular will motivate children to explore their passions and prepare themselves for a lifetime of discovery.
A Legacy Education Foundation grant and money donated by Strawberry Park's parent-teacher information committee helped fund Collard's visit.