Hannah Watkins displays a page from one of her recently published books on natural disasters.
Photo by Patrice Kohl
Seventeen-year-old Hannah Watkins has not yet graduated from Kenai Central High School, but has already hit the book publishing industry with a wave.
After the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004, Watkins visited local libraries and found text books explaining tsunamis, but thought young children needed more than the text books could offer to understand tsunamis.
“There weren’t any story books that little kids could relate to,” she said.
She said that a book explaining what happens during a tsunami from the perspective of a child in a story format would help children understand and alleviate their concerns about the natural disaster better than a text book.
“I wanted them to know what would happen if a tsunami did hit,” she said.
Soon Hannah wrote and illustrated a book titled, “Heidi and the Tsunami,” then “Molly and the Earthquake” and “James and the Volcano.”
The first book won her the 15th annual Caring for the Kenai competition in 2005 and drew support from the Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management and corporate sponsors, enabling her to publish and distribute the book free to every kindergarten and pre-K student on the peninsula.
Although the books are ideal for a tsunami-, earthquake- and volcano-prone area like the Kenai Peninsula, Hannah’s books are not region specific and can be used to teach children living anywhere vulnerable to the disasters.
“When I started the project, I didn’t know that much about disasters,” she said. “(And) I didn’t know how many disasters affect the peninsula.”
“By researching you learn all of the things you should do,” she said. “I didn’t know that you should have an emergency kit, but now our family has one.”
Hannah estimates she spent about 100 hours writing and illustrating each book. In each of the first three books she named the characters after siblings.
“That’s one of the best parts, you get to choose everybody’s name,” she said.
But for her fourth and upcoming book, “Spencer and the Wildfire,” Hannah had to look elsewhere for names.
“I ran out of siblings,” she said. “I had to move on to cousins.”
“James and the Volcano” is being printed for the first time this spring “Heidi and the Tsunami” and “Molly and the Earthquake” are being reprinted, bringing the number of copies available to 18,000.
As Hannah’s project has grown to include more books, she has won recognition for her work again, receiving the Prudential Spirit of Community Award, a national award encouraging young people to become involved in community service.
As part of the award, Hannah will receive $1,000 and an all-expenses-paid trip in May to Washington, D.C. where she will join 100 other top honorees from across the country.
Hannah said that although she enjoys writing, she enjoys science even more and is considering a career in biomedical engineering.
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