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By Anna Lothson
Ellie Alldredge-Bell spent decades learning how children's minds work, so putting them into a picture book didn't seem farfetched.
The now-retired Oak Park elementary school teacher, who taught at Holmes, Hatch and Lincoln for a combined 33 years, has more time on her hands now, but she can't seem to get away from what attracted her to the profession. In fact, she enjoyed it so much, she has translated her years working with children into a new career — professional author.
Alldredge-Bell has finished other manuscripts, but her first published book, Sitting on a Zinnia and Other Sweet Dreams, hit bookstores mid-December. The colorful story tells the tale of a young girl as she moves through a series of dreams, which include whimsical characters like monkeys in underpants tickling a hippo, piano-playing beagles, pigs in bubble baths, butterflies in boots, birds in bikinis, and frogs wearing pink fuzzy boas.
One might wonder what inspired her, but that's easy. It's always been her kids (both family and the ones she taught).
"All those years of teaching were really fertile ground for me," she said. "Listening to their conversations, I was privy to [kids'] insights — of who they are and what their world was."
Alldredge-Bell now lives in Madison, Wis., but she still has an Oak Park home, which she visits frequently. She has taught all ages from kindergarten to sixth grade, spending a majority of her years in those two bookend grades.
"I think it was always brewing in me and after I retired, I just started writing. … I've always been interested in the development of children," she said. "It's been wonderful to be with so many different ages. It really helps my writing."
The idea resulted from conversations she's had with children about their odd dreams and bad dreams. Kids always talk about being scared when sleeping, but they also talked about the funny things that happen. Her book aims to show a humorous look at the wild rides dreams take kids on, accompanied by vibrant and quirky scenarios.
"The characters are combinations of people I knew," Alldredge-Bell said. "I can hear certain voices of children. It just kind of comes alive in my head. I think when you teach children, you meet such wonderful characters."
Since retiring in 2003, she has taught children's writing workshops and has led classes with senior citizens on writing memoirs. She doesn't have her own classroom, but she suspects she'll always have students.
Besides getting her work published, the book also helped connected her with a fellow former Oak Parker, Stacy Williams-ng, the illustrator. Although they didn't know each other until the book project began, their work has been a perfect synergy, she said. In fact, she is already paired up for another project with her. It looks like retirement for this educator has been far from boring.
"I am keeping very busy and having a very good time," she said.