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Student’s Award-Winning Book Shines Light on Mental Health Awareness

Itzel Montoya Hernandez and Raeanna Carlson show off her bookItzel Montoya Hernandez's thoughts fill the pages of her book, telling a tale of heartache, grief and, finally, acceptance.

The Bryan High junior wrote, illustrated and published a children's book called "Pastel de Zanahoria" or "Carrot Cake," aimed at helping young children cope with grief.

Montoya Hernandez wrote the book in English and Spanish for an Educators Rising competition. She says that the characters and illustrations in her book represent her culture.

Her book was inspired by her cousin's death in middle school and its impact on her family. In the story, the main character, Samuel, experiences the loss of his grandmother and learns how to navigate the five stages of grief.

Montoya Hernandez says she's hoping to show elementary-aged students how to cope with loss at an early age.

"It's a topic that's hard to explain to little kids," said Montoya Hernandez.

"And that's why I wanted to make a book so that you're not using big words or giving them too much information at once, but you're still explaining it to them."

Writing a book as a 16-year-old is challenging, but Montoya Hernandez has done it twice. She wrote both books in English and Spanish. Montoya Hernandez received help from her parents, bilingual liaisons, and Educators Rising sponsor Raeanna Carlson.

"This gives a voice to other little kids, and she's able to use her superpowers of bilingualism to do this really cool thing," said Carlson, Bryan High English teacher. "This current generation is more tapped into understanding mental health, and we need to leverage their own experiences to communicate the necessary processes to move through it."

Bryan High displayed the book in their library as a resource for students and their families, helping to raise awareness of Mental Health. Montoya Hernandez says mental health is an important conversation, especially if it's difficult.

"It's one of those things that gets pushed aside because some think it's not okay to show emotion," said Montoya Hernandez. "Mental health is a topic that affects everyone, no matter what age you are."

Montoya Hernandez received fourth place for “Pastel de Zanahoria” in the Children’s Literature category at the annual Nebraska Educators Rising State Leadership Conference in 2023. She wrote her second book this year and will learn soon if it earned an award.

Read a digital version of “Pastel de Zanahoria” in English or Spanish. 


May 2024

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