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Human Connection Through Story

This year I collaborated on a wonderful story written and illustrated especially for elders with dementia called A Day on the Wind Seeker.  People living with dementia are able to and enjoy reading a loud, but many of the books available in large print with high contrast graphics are childish and not designed for adults.  I am pleased to include this blog by Rita Akins who shares her story about her passion and how we came to collaborate on A Day on the Wind Seeker.

By Rita Akins – Author of Stories for Older AdultsA Day on the Wind Seeker

Photo of Rita and Ronn AkinsPhoto of Rita and Ronn Akins

I was a “student” of reading aloud for 22 years. In my Montessori classroom, unhurried read alouds were frequent and conversation around story was always encouraged. In fact, the conversation rarely ended when the story book closed. I observed the value of dialogue around story, not only for learning, but for building relationships and making connections. I wanted to build upon that dialogue for my students, so I started a company.

Montessori Images began eleven years ago as a seed of an idea. It has grown in passionate dedication to the joyful benefits of reading aloud at all ages. My husband, Ronn, a very talented artist, has partnered with me to create beautifully illustrated learning activities that work with children’s books to extend the read-aloud experience and keep the conversation going. Human connection through story is our mission.

About a year and a half ago our materials caught the attention of Jennifer Brush.

Jennifer’s call

My first conversation with Jennifer was exhilarating! She was in search of existing Montessori materials that would work in memory care settings, and Ronn’s beautiful illustrations and our use of large-print text caught her eye. I was intrigued. My focus had always been on Montessori and children, and I confessed to knowing little about Montessori for aging and dementia. We discussed reading groups for people with dementia; how many individuals enjoy reading aloud to others; and how illustrated reading materials could be designed to facilitate engagement and participation. She absolutely blew me away! Our conversation left me bursting with excitement over the possibilities for illustrative stories in dementia care.

Our collaboration

With Jennifer’s guidance, Ronn and I set to work on a plan for a short story utilizing large-print text and high-contrast, full-page illustrations. A question at the bottom of each page of text would be added to prompt discussion and reminiscing. I wanted the story to also have an intergenerational theme. I was excited over the possibility of older adults with dementia and children (bookend generations) connecting over a story they could read to each other. A list of possible topics ran through my mind, but I kept coming back to one – sailing.

Writing the story – A Day on the Wind Seeker

The Chesapeake Bay is home for us, and a very inspirational setting for a sailing story. Understanding reading and dementia was, however, the challenge. So I wrote with a friend in mind who was living with dementia, and who had enjoyed boating the waters of the Chesapeake in his younger years. He and his granddaughter inspired the characters, Papa Jack and Emma.

Writing also called up memories of my own father – a voracious reader who enjoyed large-print stories of the sea and sailing into his 90’s. There are parallels in the Wind Seeker to the story of Dad’s first real sailing adventure at the age of 18. It was the 1930’s. With little money and eager to sail, Dad and his brother “resourcefully” restored an old boat in my grandfather’s garage. Everyone thought the boat would sink, but instead they sailed the Chesapeake for nearly three weeks and returned triumphant! Dad never told me the name of that old boat. . . I think he would have liked the name “Wind Seeker.”

We hope that readers of A Day on the Wind Seeker enjoy feelings of adventure, and make many joyful connections. We look forward to writing and illustrating more Stories for Older Adults in 2018.

A Day on the Wind Seeker can be purchased from Montessori Images

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