Several years ago, Kerri Ochs, an elementary school counselor, stumbled upon an adorable snail puppet at a counseling conference. Seeing the value it would have in helping her shy students, she snatched it up, but in spite of an exhaustive search, she could never find a book suitable to use with the puppet.
Since incorporating it into her work, Kerri has performed with the puppet retelling the story of Sylvia the shy snail from memory, but always found herself wanting a visual component to help the children enjoy the story and understand the messages related to the puppet better.
Dustin Owens, a talented senior art major at Southern Arkansas University, needed a capstone project, a specialized focus project, which is required of university seniors. He was enrolled in Steve Ochs’ internship class and needed to be connected to a community client to fulfill this requirement. That is how the dots were connected for Kerri and Owens.
Kerri had an array of puppets for Owens to choose from – A shark, lamb, possum, caterpillar or a spider – but he chose the snail for a personal reason.
“I wanted to help children who were shy. I was that kid!” said Owens. “I wanted to help the kind of kid I used to be.”
From the very first meeting, the two worked well together, Kerri explaining her vision and Owens sketched out concepts. The finished project is a beautifully illustrated book that shares the story of a snail, who finally makes it out of her shell.
As Kerri points out, in the book, Sylvia the Snail starts out as a non-descript lump and by the end of the book, as she discovers things about herself and others, she becomes a darling and distinct personality.
“The book is for kids in general, but it illustrates how difficult it can be for shy children. Sometimes they do not know how to approach others, but once they come out of their shells, the timid children are quite wonderful individuals with unique talents that need to be shared – just as Sylvia the snail did in this story,” she said. “I always felt this puppet should have a story… Now it does.”
Owens said that he was able to put to use the skills and knowledge that he gained in semesters at SAU, which included graphic design, studio art, typography, photography, layout and production, illustration, as well as learning how work with a client against deadlines.
“This was a good and challenging capstone project for him,” said Steve Ochs. “It brought together all of the aspects of his education – all of these classes – put them together for a great experience. He now has an illustrated book in his professional portfolio that will represent his style and interests. He also had the unique opportunity for which he, his client and his teacher were able to work so closely together.”