What started with the idea of a character named Maggie keeping a secret evolved into a story involving Santa Claus, a polar bear, an evil potato and a talking dog.
The story was written by students from all 21 schools — elementary, middle and high — in the Amphitheater Public Schools district. The timing of the project was planned for the start of Love of Reading Week on Monday.
Superintendent Todd Jaeger started the story in October. He introduced Maggie and the fact that she was keeping a big secret.
From there, the district handed off Jaeger’s first chapter to students at Innovation Academy, who wrote the next part of the story.
Those two parts went to Mesa Verde Elementary students, who wrote the third part.
Then the tale got interesting.
The second and third parts were sent to Cross Middle School. Those students didn’t get to read the first part, but they worked to write the fourth part of the story.
The next school, Rio Vista Elementary, got to read the third and fourth parts — but not the first or second — and wrote the fifth.
The story made its way to each school, with students only knowing a sliver of what came before.
“It’s almost like a game of telephone, but we wanted it to hopefully show that people can get a point of view and be creative — but that it can link up and be one cohesive story,” said Michelle Valenzuela, the district’s communications director.
“I think had they been able to read through the beginning, or if the people in the beginning knew how it would end — if you’re trying to make (a story) work with what comes before, it changes how you would’ve told the story.
“I think it allows for even more imagination because you’re not bound by everything that came before you.”
The students were only given a handful of rules: Each part had to be no more than 250 words and they had to include at least one character from the previous chapter. Students were allowed to end their parts on a cliffhanger or even in mid-sentence.
Depending on the school, participating students worked individually, in a group or as a class to submit their story entries. The district then chose the entry that best fit with the story and also added some “fun elements,” Valenzuela said.
Students also created illustrations.
The entry written by Yuliana Pedroza, 10, and Valeria Orozco Garcia, 11, was selected to end the giant story. The two Prince Elementary students said they were excited their part was chosen.
“I liked to create stuff and make it into a story,” Valeria said.
“The imagination that our students are showing and the stories that made it into the big main story — and the others — are so fun,” Valenzuela said. “We just laugh and are so amazed at what they come up with.”
Prince Elementary student Tanya Carreon Hernandez, 11, said she drew inspiration from Dr. Seuss’ books.
Rigoberto Equihua Ordonez, 10, incorporated the Grinch and elves.
Meanwhile, Jason Ramer, 11, wrote about a “flaming frog that burnt down the kitchen” and 11-year-old Everett Martynec-Boley’s entry featured an appearance by Willy Wonka.
Students and faculty, in addition to guests, such as Oro Valley’s newly appointed police chief Kara Riley, were selected to voice characters in the story.
“Each year, we try to do something fun for Love of Reading Week,” Valenzuela said.
“We have what we call our ‘portrait of a graduate,’ which is a visualization of qualities we want all our graduates to have,” she said.
“We thought this kind of fit with some of the qualities with our ‘portrait of a graduate’ and it was a way to involve all of our schools in creating a story and illustrating it.”
The district plans to turn the story into a booklet and hand it out at the Tucson Festival of Books, where they’ll challenge visitors to contribute to a new story. The festival takes over the University of Arizona from March 14-15.
Contact reporter Gloria Knott at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4235. On Twitter: @gloriaeknott