Author brings literacy home to Coalhurst

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Author Jim Asplund inspired students to draw pictures of their favourite character from his book.

COALHURST – It might not have impressed Coalhurst Elementary School (CES) students that Jim Asplund taught for 35 years, nor that he was once head teacher to their own principal, way back when.

What hopefully caught their attention was the Picture Butte author, in the flesh, reading from his most recent book and asking them to mimic milking cows or rooting in the dirt for potatoes and carrots like a pig.

“It’s fun and there’s a connection in that they get to see a real author, a real person who writes, and these are his stories,” said Principal Sterling Paiha of the school’s efforts to have students connect with literacy in a meaningful way. “The fact this a person who is local – and not somebody famous from New York or something – communicates to the kids that anyone can be an author, including themselves.”

Asplund read aloud from “True Animal Stories for Kids and Grownups” and then asked the students to draw animal characters from their favourite chapter. His aim was to encourage their creativity, their enthusiasm and love for learning.

He was definitely impressed by his return to CES, which he attended for three years after his nearby one-room, country school closed. 

“It has been absolutely incredible,” Asplund said of his two readings in Coalhurst. “The kids are respectful, attentive and task-oriented, and I can tell by their drawings that they were listening because of the detail they put into them.”

Neither was he surprised by the work done by school staff, as he recalled getting a “wonderful education” at CES. He graduated from Coalhurst High School and began his teaching career in Iron Springs at the age of 18.

“I was fresh out of high school with one year of university; hardly older than the kids and that was fairly common in that era,” said Asplund.

At Huntsville School, he was principal to a young Paiha for three years. He also taught at Dorothy Dalgliesh School in Picture Butte.

Asplund would have never imagined he’d return to Coalhurst Elementary School all these years later, even if it was a different building. Paiha, who urged his students to be on their best behaviour so he wouldn’t get summoned to the principal’s office himself, didn’t think back then the two might cross paths professionally either.

“In fact, in those years I had no idea I would be a teacher at all,” he said. “It’s very cool. I feel like things have come full-circle.”

It was less a surprise that Asplund would put his thoughts on paper. He said he always loved writing and often penned the school Christmas play during his teaching years.

He is the author of two earlier works – “Rivers We Love: Southern Alberta Lifelines” and “Country Houses and Gardens of Southern Alberta.” His latest book, a compilation of stories solicited from others, was spurred after he read some fascinating stories about the relationships between people and animals. A friend’s account of childhood memories would result in one of the stories in the book, “The Seven Lambs.”

“It was such a wonderful, fascinating story that I thought ‘I’m going to keep on asking people.’ And of course, everybody has a true animal story. Some of them are pretty weird but that’s wonderful, that’s exactly what I was looking for,” said Asplund.