By Laura McAlister
Students in Ashley Dark’s third grade Gwin Elementary class aren’t likely to forget the storms of April 27, 2011 anytime soon.
Though most of the Hoover students experienced little to no damage the day that the devastating tornados tore through parts of the state, they have spent the better part of the school year interviewing victims of the tornados. The class has even published a historical novel based on those interviews.
To mark the one-year anniversary of the storm, students will be at the Books-A-Million in Tuscaloosa April 27 with copies of their book, “April’s Rampage.” Residents in the Over the Mountain area can meet the young authors at a meet and greet at the Hoover Books-A-Million April 28 from 2-4 p.m.
The book follows the Johnsons, a fictional family of four who live near Tuscaloosa, one of the hardest hit areas of the April 27 storms.
Before developing their story, Ashley said, they conducted lots of research.
“We interviewed victims, volunteers, James Spann came in,” she said. “We started with the research. Then the actual writing started in January.”
The 84-page book follows a fictional Holt Elementary third grader named Cole.
Students said the Johnson family was loosely based on a victim they interviewed as a class.
They named the mother April, after one of the victims. She was pregnant during the April 27 storms that destroyed much of her home, as is the mom in “April’s Rampage.”
“We had to make it take place somewhere the tornado hit,” said student Mary Caroline Stephens.
That’s where ABC 33/40 weatherman James Spann helped. Student Daniel Massie said Spann described the weather that day and where the greatest devastation occurred.
Ashley said the students divided into groups to brainstorm ideas for characters for the book. In addition to Cole and his mother, there is a father, Richard, and little sister, Bella. Cole’s grandparents are Mamie and PawPaw.
At the end of the book, another character, Cole’s baby sister Lizzy, joins the family.
“What we did was we had to sit down and make a plot line,” student Landon Dickson said. “We had to figure out what they were going to do, and their names. Cole is a third grader who plays baseball.”
The character also has asthma and severe allergies.
Like one of the victims interviewed by the students, Cole loses much of his house when the tornado topples a tree onto its roof.
Student Kristina Jackson said she could understand the fear the family in the book would feel. She was actually living in an area hit hard by the April 27 tornados.
“We all went in the restroom and stayed there a while,” she said of that day. “We saw stuff blowing up. My sister cried, and we prayed to make sure we were OK.”
Kristina and her family were fine, but their home was damaged.
In the end, the Johnson family was fine as well, and they learned a great lesson that Ashley and her students hope those who read the book will take with them.
Colin McNay said the book taught him to stay safe and take cover during storms. Kristina added that some things just aren’t replaceable.
“You can replace your stuff, but you can’t replace your family,” she said.
For copies of “April’s Rampage,” call Gwin Elementary at 439-2600.