6 MONTEREY COUNTY WEEKLY october 19-25, 2023 www.montereycountyweekly.com 831 On a sunny Saturday afternoon, dozens of children sit on the grass at La Paz Park in Salinas with Ranger, a dog mascot representing a new book. They are listening to a reading from Amor Salinas, in which young people learn to become superheroes in their own city—with superhero defined as someone dedicated to keeping the city clean. The project is a collaboration between graphic design students at North Salinas High School and the City of Salinas, and it happened by chance. Sophia Rome, Salinas’ community relations manager, took part in mock job interviews at the school. Rome sat down with student Myrna Gonzalez and saw that her resume included the completion of assignments in graphic design class—including a mural in front of Harden Middle School. Rome was impressed and contacted Gonzalez’s instructor, Jennifer Ghastin. “It was actually my students, talking about their previous work, that piqued the interest of Sophia Rome,” Ghastin explains. The collaboration led to the picture book Amor Salinas. It was the first time her classes designed such a publication, which involved a narrative and illustrations. The story follows the adventures of Ranger, Bucky and Esmeralda in Salinas. The paperback is the second phase of the Amor Salinas initiative, which the city launched two years ago. The focus of the initial phase was on organizing cleanups and encouraging a volunteer spirit, and was considered a success. Now that cleanups happen regularly with hundreds of volunteers involved, the program moved to its second phase: education. “We’re going to start making cultural and long-term changes within our community, having our kids understand the importance of loving our city,” Rome says. The goal of phase two is to instill in young residents the idea that they can take initiative and work with others to improve their community. Before Ghastin’s students started working on the storyboard or drawing the characters and backgrounds, Rome gave them a briefing about important places in Salinas, showing them before and after photographs of cleanups and spoke about the project’s goal. Students visited different parts of Salinas and took pictures to gather inspiration, picking up trash along the way. Once they explored the city, Ghastin’s students divided into groups, each in charge of different functions— editor in chief, storyboard and character development. Ranger, Bucky and Esmeralda would have to resonate. Time was pressing. There were six weeks left in the school term. But they turned Amor Salinas around in three weeks, driven by the hope it would get published before the end of the school year. Monica Navarro, the book’s editor in chief, says she was excited by the project, admitting that many felt intimidated by the scope. “We worked really hard on this book and I’m really proud of the work we’ve done and how it turned out,” Navarro says. Eddie Rincon was a character designer for Bucky. He arranged different Bucky presets, like arms and legs in different positions, that other students could use while making illustrations. Ghastin advised the students, but they took the lead on each character’s appearance and the layout of each scene. “I think that when we do anything for an audience greater than ourselves, it’s just much more powerful,” Ghastin explains. Navarro says they wanted readers to see themselves in the book: “We tried our best to design characters that would look like any other kid in Salinas.” The team reached out to Spanish teacher Claudia Verdin to make sure the English and Spanish version were similar. The team that put the book together are now high school graduates. This year, they’ve presented the book they designed to the Salinas Union High School District board, Salinas City Council—and to the public. The city printed 3,000 copies and will distribute them to local elementary schools. Amor Salinas will also be available at all Salinas Library branches. Clean Page High school students collaborate with Salinas to produce a children’s book and improve the city. By Celia Jiménez “You’re going to reach a lot of people in such a small area,” Sophia Rome says of the potential for a new children’s book to change culture in Salinas. Above, children participate in a reading at La Paz Park on Saturday, Oct. 14. “We’re going to start making long-term changes.” tALeS FroM tHe AreA coDe DANIEL DREIFUSS