The teacher still runs deep in children’s author Cindy Creel.
Creel returned to Northside Elementary School on Nov. 29, where she taught for more than 20 years, to read her first children’s book, “How the Fire Dog Got His Spots.”
“I have lots of good memories here,” said Creel, greeting the secretary in the front office and taking off down a hallway to her first classroom at Northside Elementary, the last door on the left near an exit.
Tucked under her arm was a stuffed dalmatian, found at an Alabama store complete with a fire hat, although a pumpkin in his paws was removed.
Creel points to the bulletin board her daughter carved her name in, since it was her mom’s bulletin board.
The story of her first book covers 33 years, with a pair of floods as its bookends.
Its origins can be traced back to 1983, inspired by Creel’s daughter after seeing the Disney movie “101 Dalmatians.”
Michelle, then 3, had many questions, so “I made up stories. She was inquisitive and my husband told me I should write it down,” Creel said.
The kindergarten teacher also couldn’t find a fiction book to use during Fire Safety Week, so she penned her own from her stories.
Any idea of making it a formal book took a backseat to the flooding in 1983, as Creel had “two 10-month-old babies and a 3-year-old” when she lost her home in Central.
After retiring as a teacher, Creel was still urged by her husband to create the book. He then illustrated it.
“Pen and ink are my favorite stuff,” Mike Creel said.
“I just drew some sketches, made the book for our grandkids,” he said. “We put it on Facebook, and it exploded.”
Whether they are author and illustrator, or wife and husband, the Creels’ banter is quick and comedic.
Mike Creel: “The book was published right before the flood of 2016.”
Cindy Creel: “Took that long to do the drawings …”
Cindy Creel: “Where are my words,” looking through a folder for an outline.
Mike Creel: “On my computer …”
Fourteen years after retiring from teaching, Cindy Creel is still on a first-name basis with the Northside faculty and staff – two kindergarten teachers are still here from when she taught here.
And the teacher is still near the surface – Creel chides herself for “walking on the wrong side of the hall.”
The teacher is still in charge as she enters the cafeteria, telling the line of kindergarteners they did not have to wash their hands now, but telling one to tie his shoe.
Her elementary-age grandchildren helped Creel “edit” the book by reading it and pointing out difficult words.
“The grandkids got it on their level,” Mike Creel said.
In the book, the hero’s name is a play on the word spot.
“How the Fire Dog Got His Spots” is the story of Sport, a young dog that comes to live at a fire station with a firefighter named Red.
Sport eventually goes out on a fire call, and in the process, gets his spots. To tell anymore is to reveal the story.
Dalmatian puppies are born with plain white coats and their first spots usually appear within three to four weeks after birth. After about a month, they have most of their spots.
Sport is older than that when he arrives at the fire station, Cindy Creel said.
“It leaves a mystery,” she said with a sly smile. “Did Sport grow into his spots or how did he get them?”
Applause and cheers greeted Creel when she finished the story.
“I’m glad you enjoyed my story about my dog,” Creel said.
She then asked questions of her audience – “Since I knew it was part of the literacy curriculum” – whether they knew who an author was, what a the title page was and the different types of books.
“Reading to classes, I knew they would love” the story, she said.
Now Sport and his story can be found on Amazon, Kindle and at Books-A-Million stores.
“It only took 30 years to get in the mood to draw it,” Mike Creel said, who stopped drawing after a stroke in 2011.
“I had not picked up a pen or pencil,” when their oldest grandchild, Cooper, applied to an art club, Creel said.
Cooper had to turn in 10 drawings and Creel helped him prepare a portfolio. As he did, the spark to draw was revived.
Mike Creel was working on his own book, “Big Bayou Christmas,” which uses a poem for its words and his illustrations.
The preliminary copy of the book was one illustration away from going to the printer when the August floodwaters hit, he said.
Their home in Pleasant Ridge subdivision flooded – “We had to use an ax to chop through the door,” to her scrapbook room, Cindy Creel said.
The furniture “imploded” in that room and items placed high were on the floor; inks were “swirled on the floor.”
That flooding is the inspiration for the retired kindergarten teacher’s next book, she said.
“When the Water Rose: Through the Eyes of Children,” examines the Great Flood of 2016 from a child’s point of view.
It was several days after the historic flooding that the Creels reunited with their grandchildren, hearing stories of how they perceived the floodwaters.
The words are complete for that book; Mike Creel is again doing the drawings.
The guidance counselor at South Walker Elementary, where grandson Charlie goes to school, told Cindy Creel the book would be helpful for children dealing with the flooding.
“Page by page, you can say ‘This is what happened to me; this is what happened to you,’” Creel said.
“The way a 5- or 6-year-old thinks, they don’t think outside of their box,” Creel said. “They see things their way.”
“When you get it, I need it,” the guidance counselor told her.
“I love teaching; I did love teaching,” the children’s author said at the end of her appearance, as the teacher watched the kindergarteners return to their classes.
“Let the babies get out first,” she said. “This was very enjoyable.”