‘Windy’ born out of collaboration between current, former DCSD students
Book authored by America’s Next Top Model contestant teams up Mountain Vista grads and Highlands Ranch freshman
HIGHLANDS RANCH – It sounds a bit like a plot to an inspiring children's book, rather than the story behind how one was created. Fate recently brought together a pair of Mountain Vista High School graduates, including America’s Next Top Model candidate Matthew Smith, and a freshman at Highlands Ranch High School to create a beautifully illustrated story for kids.
Three Douglas County students (past and present) collaborated to create ‘Windy,’ a book that tells the story of a creature that infuses a universe of color into what had once been a lifeless planet.
LEARN MORE: Read overview, reviews of Windy
The idea for the story began a few years ago when Smith (MVHS ’08) and Devin Wiggins (MVHS '08) were roommates. Smith shared a bedtime story that immediately caught Wiggin’s attention.
“He jumped out of bed, turned on the lights and he wanted to know where I got it,” Smith recalled.
Smith wrote down the entire story and sent it to his long-time friend Luke Leins (MVHS '08), who felt that the story was something special.
“(Luke) said this was the best thing I had had ever done,” Smith said.
They went to work trying to capture the essence of Windy in illustration, but realized their attempts weren’t good enough. Even Smith, who now has a line of clothing and studied landscape architecture in college, couldn’t pull off the creativity needed.
“Matt and I tried to draw and realized that neither of us could do it justice,” Leins said.
“I legitimately tried to draw Windy, but it was horrible,” Smith added with a laugh.
“We put out an RFP (Request for Proposal) to 12 professional illustrators,” Leins continued. “We sent a manuscript and one of our drawings and we asked, show us what you think Windy would look like. We got a lot of interest”
They had several professionals to choose from, but ended up going with a then eighth-grade student at Cresthill Middle School, Audrey Ng.
“It wasn’t handed to her. She earned it,” said Leins.
Smith’s mother and Cresthill teacher Rene Smith-Tomczak had seen Ng’s artistry in her Creative Sewing Class, which culminates every year in a fashion show, complete with student designed outfits. Smith-Tomczak encouraged her son and his friend to consider Ng.
“Let’s humor this girl,” Leins remembers saying, but when they saw the drawing, “We knew it was Windy.”
She took the project from there, bringing life to Windy through her illustrations.
“We didn’t give her any guidance. We said, ‘here is our manuscript and your picture. Finish it,’ Leins said.
“It was a lot of fun, because of how creative I got to be with the different colors,” Ng said. “It was really fun to take on this project because it is so unique. I’ve never done anything like this before.”
Ng, now a freshman at Highlands Ranch High School is excited to have her work published.
“I think this opens up my future. That is very exciting,” Ng said. “Just like when we did that fashion project in eighth-grade, it felt like there were these opportunities that opened up because I worked the hardest on the art and then people noticed it. It is fascinating and exciting.”
Ng’s mother attributes some of the success to the fact that the Douglas County School District encourages students to be creative and to collaborate.
“When I was young I wasn’t encouraged into art. To see her have this opportunity means so much to me,” Tiemdow Phumiruk said.
Smith agreed. He believes that the experiences in DCSD prepared himself and his collaborators to succeed.
“We are all blessed to be here. It is one of the top school districts in the country,” Smith said. “Living here and going to school here gives us opportunities a lot of other people don’t have. We are fortunate.”
Now the team hopes to share their book and its message with others.
“If you follow your dreams, you can spread your colors and your inspiration to the entire world and make it a more beautiful place,” Ng said.
They are working with the Alyssa Cares Foundation to bring the story to a number of Douglas County schools, as well as less fortunate areas. Alyssa was a Fox Creek Elementary student who loved to read. Her life was cut short by Acute Lymphoma Leukemia. The foundation now works to encourage reading.
“I hope our book and help underserved communities. It may help students learn some grammar and vocabulary,” Smith said.
In the end, it is something that Windy – the heroine of their book would have wanted.
“The message in this book is selfless giving. We all have our own colors, like Wendy,” Smith said. “We all have our own gift and it is just a matter of how we share that gift.”
WATCH: Fox 31 Everyday: New Children’s Book “Windy” By Matthew Smith, Luke Leins & Audrey Dow