JOPLIN, Mo. —
Not only will 700 Joplin kindergartners receive a book on their first day of school Thursday, they'll get to meet its author and illustrator.
Joplin resident and small business owner Sheila Gunlock found inspiration for "Groovy Granny and the Character Bees" in her own children, who are now adults with children of their own.
"Looking at my old children, I saw a foundation of principles that have carried them through their lives," Gunlock said.
She home-schooled all four sons, now ranging from 22 to 30 years old. As a speech-communication major with a love for the theater and writing, several years ago she began taking her talents on the road to Southwest Missouri public schools as characters who emulated lifelong values.
"I became honesty, integrity, patience, and I brought those words to life for students in skits," she said.
As Missouri Maggie, for example, she wore a cowboy hat, cowboy shirt, vest and chili pepper earrings and talked with the youth about grit.
"Grit is smack dab in the middle of integrity," she said.
She also wrote puppet scripts and curriculum that has been distributed around the world, from Taiwan to Mexico, she said, and incorporated each country's culture to help children relate to the characters and the message.
"I wanted to serve my community Ñ serve the Lord Ñ by using what he had created in me," Gunlock said.
Three years ago, she added the title of grandmother to her rŽsumŽ Ñ a miracle and a blessing, she said. With the arrival of her son Cody Gunlock's daughter, now 3, and her son Caleb Gunlock's son, also now 3, the would-be author found further inspiration.
"In 'Groovy Granny,' Little Reyah Hope is after my granddaughter Sareyah, and Zackerdoodle is after my grandson Zack," she said. "I wanted to leave them a legacy of strong character."
Diamond student Shea Dalton, the 16-year-old daughter of Gunlock's best friend, Kristy Dalton, began creating the illustrations for Gunlock's story at age 13.
"She was 13 and I was 50, and the lesson was great for both of us," Gunlock said. "We realized we weren't too young or too old to go for a dream. As a result, we've had the opportunity to leave an eternal impact on a finite world because things are changing so fast. But strong character and character qualities are what make our nation great and our world great."
In 2011, their finished product, "Groovy Granny" got picked up by a division of Thomas Nelson book publishers.
Gunlock and Dalton dedicated it to "all of the Groovy Grannies and grandbabies lost or affected by the tornado that hit Joplin, Mo., on May 22, 2011."