The world and its people long have been a source of fascination for teacher Heather Caldwell Toner.
When her research revealed that it was not just her English-as-a-second-language students who often were lacking in geographical knowledge, but also many elementary school students, she was inspired to address that educational gap.
The result is Toner’s first book, “Where in the World Will We Go Today,” (BQB Publishing) targeted to preschool and kindergarten, but which she believes will have value for children to about age 8.
Its 29 full-color illustrated pages were rendered by longtime friend Bill Pazman of Oakmont, now an art teacher in Deer Lakes School District. “Bill is extremely creative, patient and is an expert in his craft,” Toner says. “I admire his talents as an artist and educator.”
Following its national launch in Georgia, Toner, a Harmar native and Slippery Rock University graduate residing in Atlanta, has returned to celebrate its release with a series of school visits Nov. 24 through Nov. 26 throughout the Pittsburgh area. It includes a student assembly with Pazman on Nov. 25 at Springdale Junior-Senior High school, where they both graduated in 1989.
The one event open to the public is a reading and signing featuring the two at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 24 at Springdale Free Public Library.
“I purposely planned these events here in the Alle-Kiski Valley for my first official tour of the book. This town and the city of Pittsburgh helped shape who I am today,” Toner says. “To come home and share my book with my hometown is a feeling beyond compare.”
Pazman says the opportunity to illustrate a book was a dream come true. “I am very proud of what we made,” he says. “As an educator, anything that might be conducive to learning something new and/or differently is a great thing.”
Toner and Pazman offer readers a tour of the world, exploring Africa, Europe, South America, Asia and the Middle East. Readers are invited to “follow along to learn more about countries from all over the globe, countries that each have a story and a place on the map.”
The pages contain interesting facts and hand-painted maps and landmarks from each country, designed to make learning about the world exciting, Toner says.
Toner wrote it in a rhyming format, which is meant to make it easier for young readers to retain the information, she says.
“I love how the book was illustrated and written. In fact, I intend to purchase one for my youngest granddaughter,” says Dee Clark, the library’s coordinator of programs and marketing.
Toner would like to see adults get involved. “There is nothing more lovely than seeing parents reading to and with their children, inviting them to let their imaginations soar and assisting them in creating their own universe,” she says.
Her goal is to inspire children and adults who read it to “relish in the tremendous diversity our world holds,” she says. “I want readers to seek out and understand, respect and learn from cultures and people from all over the world. I want readers to contemplate their own global perspectives and for adults to teach and lead their children to understand and be enlightened by this amazing world and its diversity.”
She taught in Arizona early in her career. Her mother, Rita Caldwell of Harmar, also was a teacher, retiring from Allegheny Valley School District’s Colfax Elementary, where she taught fifth grade.
Toner hopes that she offers a vision, presence and purpose that will help support and serve others.
“She is such a positive and enthusiastic person; no matter what she does, you know she will put her heart and soul into it,” Pazman says.
“We are given one opportunity to make a mark, and I would like mine to be that I inspired even one child to become something they dream of being,” Toner says.
Library director Janet Tyree says it is important to spotlight authors and other creative and accomplished people who have local roots.
Tyree also believes a visit like this sends a message to youngsters that they might be able to one day author a book, too. “How exciting is it to see someone local be successful,” she says. “It is always nice to have local role models for our children.”
Toner credits Hazel Fritz, her now-retired Spanish teacher for four years at Springdale High School, for sparking a more-global interest in her.
Toner has traveled to almost all 50 states, Canada and Mexico, and she went to Paris for five days the past summer. She plans to take a group of students to Costa Rica in April.
“I have now started to live the title, ‘Where in the World Will We Go Today,’ ” she says.
Rex Rutkoski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4664 or email@example.com