Kaitlyn Bell '14 writes, illustrates bilingual children's book

Publishing a book is no easy task, especially when you're a senior in college.

Kaitlyn Bell '14 is a Roanoke College student who has combined her passions for Spanish and education in aninteresting way. Bell, a senior from Howell, N.J., wrote and illustrated her first bilingual children's book this past summer.

The book, "Maggie La Maleta" tells the story of Maggie, a Spanish-speaking red suitcase who is tired of being stored in an attic. Although Bell's main character is a suitcase, Maggie seems almost human complete with emotions and interactions with other animated luggage.

One day Maggie is packed up to go on an adventure, and she ends up on an airplane going to an unknown country. She meets other Spanish-speaking suitcases along her journey and at the end of the story, Maggie lands in Costa Rica.

The book is available on Amazon.com and in downtown Roanoke at a store called Native Grace. Bell has already sold more than 70 copies. 

Bell uses a technique known as code-switching in her book, where both English and Spanish words are used within the same sentences throughout the story. During Bell's 2013 Summer Scholars Project, she combined her Spanish major and education minor as she researched the impact of various types of bilingual stories on children when they are trying to learn a second language.

"[Code-switching] provides more beneficial results for kids because they are reading the sentence and have to use the context to understand the word," Bell said.

She worked closely with Dr. Dolores Flores-Silva, an associate professor of Spanish at Roanoke, last summer. Flores-Silva, who returns home to Mexico every summer, met with Bell once or twice a week via Skype, and they both communicated frequently through email.

"We worked on everything together. She gave me the chance to offer my opinion," Flores-Sliva said. "She would take my word into consideration. That is something that I appreciate about her, the respect that she shows for her professors."

The end result of the project was a 40-page research paper and 10 children's stories.  Along with classes, two campus jobs, serving as president of the College's Honors program and involvement with Omicron Delta Kappa, a leadership honor society, Bell continues to build upon her summer work.

Bell has plans to publish two more books starring Maggie la Maleta before she graduates from Roanoke in May, and she hopes to eventually publish all 10 books.

Much of the story of Maggie la Maleta is influenced by Bell's own life. She was inspired by a red Samsonite suitcase that her mother gave to her during her college years. As her mother gave her the suitcase, she told Bell, "Imagine all the stories that this suitcase will be able to tell."

That is exactly what Bell began to do. Last year, she began to write about the red suitcase relative to her own experiences abroad. Bell has traveled to several countries, including Nicaragua, Guatemala and Costa Rica, which is Maggie's destination.

As Bell wrote, she also discovered similarities between herself and her main character.

"[Maggie] is curious about the world, but she is also a little afraid to do anything at first. It's funny because it's a little reflective of me in a suitcase personality," Bell said.

Flores-Silva has had the opportunity to work with Bell since her freshman year in a variety of contexts and has seen her grow throughout her time at Roanoke.  

"From being a freshman to now being a senior, I would say that it is the same Kaitlyn, the same sweet girl who always has a smile for you even if she isn't feeling well," Flores-Silva said. "At the same time I can see how much she has improved. She has not just been working on a project, she has prepared herself to be a good scholar in the future."

As graduation approaches, Bell is thinking about what her life will look like once she leaves Roanoke. She has applied for a Fulbright grant for an English Teaching Assistantship in Peru. She also has plans to apply for teaching jobs in private and public schools as well as programs where she will have the opportunity to teach English as a second language.

"I feel like [my future] could go a number of ways, kind of like Maggie's adventures," Bell said. "She's not quite sure where she's going. I hope that whatever I do, wherever I go, it has something to do with teaching."

Watch this video about Bell's experiences abroad and at Roanoke.

-Published Dec. 6, 2013

Released: December 6, 2013