It seemed like a walking into a school-wide slumber party Thursday morning, when the students at Chapel Hill Elementary School — and their teachers — came to school in their pajamas.
What added to Pajama Day, themed “Wake Up and Make a New Friend,” was a visit from retired Douglas County physical education teacher-turned-author Kim “Coach E” Eldredge and her longtime friend and illustrator Toni Friddell Jordan; the two read their published children’s book “The Sky is the Limit” to the different grade levels.
Eldredge has described the book as “ageless and timeless that could apply to everyone,” but most appropriate for children in first through fourth grades.
It was more than a listening exercise for the students, as the author and illustrator captivated the students with shared life experiences, stories about their families, challenges faced and defeated and what provided them with the inspiration to follow a dream.
The pair first met while students at Chapel Hill Middle School in seventh grade and the friendship stuck. Both graduated from Douglas County High School in 1979, and while Eldredge has continued to make Douglas County her home, Jordan lives in Florida.
However, distance didn’t stop the two from collaborating on a book which brings the message “The Sky is the Limit” they hope will inspire elementary-aged children to believe in themselves and to go after their dreams.
Eldredge garnered much of her inspiration from her dad, Robert Ichter, a rocket scientist who moved his family to the “Space Coast” of Florida from Syracuse, New York to work with NASA on the Apollo 11 Lunar Module Project, which enabled man to walk on the moon.
In fact, the book is dedicated to her dad — her hero — something she told the students that inspired her to move forward with the writing the book.
“If you dedicate it to someone,” she said, “it helps push you forward into doing it.”
Both author and illustrator have favorite pages from the book, simply and beautifully told in both words and illustrations. One of Jordan’s illustrations referred to the words “make your heart dance” which she explained was the idea of someone doing something that makes their heart happy.
One of Eldredge’s favorite pages from the book is the very last page, which dispels the idea of “The Sky is the Limit” as it depicts a picture of an astronaut reaching beyond the sky and walking on the moon — with the lunar module her father helped build in the background.
The book did more than display the many types of careers to which a young person might aspire. It also focused on characters who reflected real-life diversity with an emphasis on inclusiveness.
Eldredge showed the students a page from the book that featured a person in a wheelchair.
“That person has a challenge,” she said. “We all have challenges, but because they are different and are in a wheelchair, don’t be afraid to be their friend.”
The life-lessons derived from the book are intentionally designed to set up discussion between parent and child. Eldredge hopes her book “is the kind of book that parents and children can read over and over — much like “The Little Engine That Could” — which was given its own special page in “The Sky is the Limit.”
She said the engine had a mantra — “I think I can, I think I can…” and so should each of the students have one of their own.
“It is helpful to have a manta that can help you,” Eldredge told the students.
She also talked about the importance of having mentors.
“It is important to find someone to help guide you and help you get where you want to go,” said Eldredge.
She also said it was important to have loyal friends, and to reject the naysayers who tell you that you can’t do something.
“It is important for you to believe in you,” Eldredge told the elementary students. ”If you are passionate about it, you can do anything. Believe in yourself. It doesn’t mean things won’t be hard. Just do your very best and you’ll have no regrets.”
For more information or to purchase the book, visit the website at www.ickfridbooks.com