Steamboat Springs What author and illustrator Kristin Joy Pratt-Serafini most wants children to know is that they can make a difference.
That's why, when talking to Soda Creek Elementary School students Wednesday, she told them the story of how she published her first children's book at age 14. Called "A Walk in the Rainforest," it was an ABC book that introduced plants and animals alphabetically. Her illustrations were done with markers.
She also told the students the story of how a group of second-graders almost 20 years ago helped preserve a large chunk of Costa Rican rainforest.
"So imagine what you guys can do," Pratt-Serafini told the students. "I am totally excited to see what you can do this school year."
Now, 15 years after her first book was published, Pratt-Serafini has published six children's books, with a seventh on the way.
Pratt-Serafini spoke with groups of second- through fifth-graders at Soda Creek on Wednesday, then with groups of first- through fifth-graders at Strawberry Park Elementary School on Friday. She will return to Strawberry Park in October to help fourth-graders with a yearlong nature journaling project.
"It's an inspiring thing," said Sherry Holland, librarian at Strawberry Park.
"These are the future writers and illustrators," she said about the students. Hearing Pratt-Serafini speaks helps them understand that "they do have a talent that needs to be shared," she said.
When Pratt-Serafini started talking with second- and third-graders at Soda Creek, she asked how many of them liked to write stories, how many liked to draw pictures and how many liked to learn about animals and plants. With each question, almost every hand in the room shot up.
Then she began to tell her story, which begins when she was in kindergarten and had a love of drawing pictures on "everything."
In the eighth grade, she had to keep a journal in one of her classes. She asked whether she could draw pictures instead of writing, and she learned a lot from her teacher's response.
"She said, 'Kristin, writing is like drawing with words,'" Pratt-Serafini told the second- and third-graders.
She then used words to describe a red-eyed tree frog and asked whether the students could make a picture in their minds of what she was describing.
"They're both different types of art," she said about writing and drawing.
Her story continued to the ninth grade, when she did an independent project for her English class. Her mother, a kindergarten teacher, was teaching her students about the rainforest and encouraged Pratt-Serafini to write and illustrate a children's book about it.
After completing pages for two letters of the alphabet and using up the 10 hours designated for the project, she made the "grown-up decision" to spend extra time to complete the idea. She spent more than 100 hours on the book.
Her high school teacher told her that her spring project was to find a publisher, and she did.
Her books have allowed her to pursue her passion -- ecology -- while using her talents of art and putting words and pictures together.
A 1995 visit with Jacques Cousteau, environmentalist and filmmaker, inspired Pratt-Serafini further, she said after her talk with students on Wednesday.
"He treated me as though I had the same potential to protect the environment as he did," she said. "I try to do that with the students I work with, because it wasn't too long ago that I was the little kid in the audience watching an author talk.
"I hope they can see that they have the ability to make the world a better place before they grow up."