Broken Crayons

When Ms. Gillis, a preservice teacher on Prince Edward Island, decides to complete her International Teaching Practicum in Kenya, sponsored by Farmers Helping Farmers, she is very excited. She is eager to share her newly-acquired teaching skills with the children in Kenya. She arrives laden with gifts and school supplies from friends on PEI. As she distributes a gift of crayons to her students, she soon realizes that she is the one who has the most to learn. Broken Crayons is a delightful story written for school age children. It is a based on a true story that never grows old and one which carries a message for all, no matter your age.

Patsy Dingwell lives with her husband Rodney on their farm in Marie, PEI. They have four sons. Her grandchildren are often the audience for her life-long love of storytelling. A retired special education assistant, she now makes time to write and travel. Her favourite destination is Kenya,
having visited three times. As a long-time member of Farmers Helping Farmers, she founded the School Twinning Project and is proud to relate stories of this Island non-profit organization. This is her first book.

Marla Lesage is an artist, illustrator, writer, and dreamer. She lives in New Brunswick with her favourite scallywags and several fish. She is the author and illustrator of Pirate, Year Round and the illustrator of Broken Crayons.

Acorn Press Canada is the publisher of Broken Crayons. To see their entire catalogue, please visit their website.

A long-time member of Farmers Helping Farmers,
Patsy Dingwell has visited Kenya three times.

Patsy Dingwell - Q and A about Broken Crayons  - October 2020

1. How did the book come about?  

This story is one that really stayed with me after hearing it. I liked to tell it whenever I did twin school and Sunday School visits. The students all seemed enthralled to hear it. When I related it to a Montague Sunday School class, Hugh MacDonald, author and former Poet Laureate was there. He mentioned at that time that it would make a great book. We agreed that he would think about writing it, but for some reason it never happened. After checking with Hugh that it was “no go” for him,  I went ahead and put the words on paper, submitted it to Acorn Press and now here it is!

2. Why was it important to you to share this story? 

Because it is  a wonderful story with such a great message. It portrays a side of our Kenya students that is often overshadowed by us being the givers, but actually we receive as much if not more than we give. I am always overwhelmed by the Kenyan students' sense of joy and happiness and jumped at the opportunity to share it with a larger audience.

3. You were instrumental in setting up the school twinning program that continues to this day. Why do you think school twinning is important?  

At the time in 2002 when I was visiting Kenyan schools, I was working at schools on P.E.I. and I was really struck by how much the students in each country could share with each other. I was hoping to give the students a chance to discover each others’ common goals and challenges through a letter exchange.  I am pleased at how twinning has evolved and is making such a difference at the Kenyan twin schools. It is also nice that our Canadian students know that it is possible to make a difference.

4. What will it be like for you to share this story in Canada and Kenya?

I will be absolutely thrilled!   Hoping and praying that COVID abates and it will be possible  to share it in person, meanwhile a little nervous of virtual means …but glad for the opportunity to do it.

Here are some photos from Patsy's trips to Kenya:

Ellen Gillis in her classroom in Kenya in 2005

Ellen Gillis - Q and A about Broken Crayons  - October 2020

Ellen Gillis inspired the story of Broken Crayons.  The school where she taught in Kenya in 2005 was Gathukimundu school. Ellen is currently teaching eighth grade at Stonepark.

Spoiler alert! Don't read this Q and A if you haven't read the book!!!

What did you think when you heard about the book? 

When I first heard that Patsy had written a book inspired by the story of the broken crayons, I was really pleased. It was one of those stories from my time in Kenya that I think about often and I tried to share it as much as I could through several presentations after I got back, so I’m really excited that this sweet story can now be shared with a wider audience. Thanks to Patsy’s creativity and persistence, this book about the broken crayons has become a reality! 

2. What do you remember most about your time teaching in Kenya? 

Prior to leaving for Africa, a professor told me that once you go there, spend time with the people, and explore the land -- it sticks with you for a lifetime and you will always want to return. When I think back on my time in Kenya, I remember what struck me most was the spirit of the people. Kenya is a truly remarkable country, but it is faced with the many hardships that accompany widespread poverty. Despite these challenges, the people I met there were incredibly kind, genuine, and hardworking. Due to the long-standing economic circumstances in Kenya there is a lot of pressure on students to succeed in school and therefore education is a highly valued aspect of their lives. It was amazing to see that from a very early age how students overcame what would be considered extreme barriers in our culture, to show up and be so motivated to learn. 

3. How do you think that experience shaped you as a teacher? 

My experiences in Kenya have always helped me to keep things in perspective. We are so unbelievably lucky to be Canadian, to have the resources that we have, and to have the opportunities in life that we do. Sometimes it means looking from the outside in to really appreciate that fact. I think my experiences in Kenya continues to motivate me to not only encourage my students to be empathetic to others, but to also become engaged global citizens. 

4. Why do you think it’s important to share the story of Broken Crayons? 

I think it’s important to share the story of the broken crayons because I think it really exemplifies the benevolence that exists among the Kenyan people….all the way down to those little kids who are the stars of this story. Instinctively, and without hesitation, they broke those crayons so that their peers in other classrooms and their brothers and sisters at home could understand and experience the joy of using colour for the first time. In their own unique way, they demonstrated that showing kindness to others is more important than material possessions. It was an example of empathy in its purest form and it reminds us that we can learn so much from others if we keep our eyes open.

Ellen Gillis shared these photos from her time in Kenya: