FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Star of children’s book written by second graders is now a learning ambassador for children in the Yakima Valley
Toppenish, Wash. – Houdini Was is a story about a classroom pet hamster written by a second-grade class at White Bluff Elementary School in Richland, Wash. The class entered the story into a contest by Scholastic Books called the Scholastic National Challenge in 2010, and their book won first place over more than 2,000 entries nationwide. Fast forward to 2023, Yakima Valley Partners for Education (YVPE) and its partners are bringing Houdini to the children of the Yakima Valley as a learning ambassador. On June 15, the teacher whose class at White Bluff Elementary wrote the story, Christan Conners, and one of her students from that year, Lily Ferguson, read Houdini Was to children at the Heritage University Early Learning Center. Afterwards, Houdini, a costumed mascot, appeared and posed for pictures with the children.
YVPE director Suzy Diaz said longtime Heritage University benefactors Ken and Sharon Smith of Yakima, Wash. became interested in YVPE’s literacy efforts and wanted to help. The Smiths, parents of Christan Conners, purchased the publishing rights to Houdini Was, had 500 copies printed, and are now making the book available to schools and organizations in the Yakima Valley.
YVPE’s partners think Houdini will be a “hamster-iffic” learning ambassador.
“The ESD is thrilled to be joining with other community partners in the Houdini project,” said Educational Service District 105 Director Shane Backlund. We’re looking forward to supporting Houdini’s mission of serving as a learning ambassador throughout our region, and we can’t wait to get started with this partnership.”
“Houdini’s journey from a class pet to a symbol of resilience touched the hearts of young minds. In their words and art, Houdini becomes a beacon of hope,” said Humberto Rodriguez, CEO of United Family Center. “The Smith family’s dedication to sharing this story nurtures healing, reminding us that even in grief we find the power to create light.”
“Early literacy helps children develop a rich vocabulary, self-expression, and reading comprehension and promotes life-long learning,” said Vanessa Frias, director of Parents as Teachers at Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic (YVFWC). “These skills prepare children for school by encouraging a love for books and an eagerness to learn. Our organization is happy to support Houdini.”