HMK is ‘all aboard’ with the SPIKE 150 celebration

Fourth graders write graphic novel; one of four classes in Utah to attend railroad celebration

Author Kaiya M. shows the author page for “Auntie and Lopey Track the Transcontinental Railroad.” Courtesy photo

The 150th anniversary celebration of the driving of the golden spike that completed the transcontinental railroad that was held last week included a special graphic novel project by HMK fourth grade students, according to an email from the school.

As part of the celebration, eight fourth grade classrooms in the entire state were invited to participate in the creation of original graphic novels. The SPIKE 150 committee turned to the Beverley Taylor Arts Learning Program (BTS), which in turn invited HMK art coach Bruce Hucko to invite a classroom at HMK to join. (Note: Art Coach’s position at HMK is largely paid for by the BTS program in cooperation with the Utah State Office of Education and the Utah Legislature.)

Mrs. Quigley’s 4th graders eagerly accepted the challenge. Hucko and Quigley attended the state arts conference where they received three days of training in the art of graphic novel writing from graphic novelist and educator Richard Jenkins. In the following months the class developed their story and brainstormed the scenes to illustrate. Hucko taught them specific illustration skills and Quigley integrated the entire project with the 4th grade history curriculum. “It took way more time than originally scheduled,” said Hucko, “but since it was all about reading, writing and history it was certainly worth it.”

The HMK novel is titled “Auntie and Lopey Track the Transcontinental Railroad.” It’s the story of two Moab-based antelope who go on a “coming of age” trip for the youngest, Lopey. On their journey they discover the eastbound tracks first and later the westbound effort. From the book prologue: “Often lost or forgotten in the human dramas taking place is the recognition of the effect this human feat had on the natural world it traversed. The land, plants and animals played a role as well, and it’s their story we offer.”

In addition to making all of the illustrations, students detailed much of the text. When an exclamatory statement was needed for a dramatic scene at the book’s end, Dylan Hagemann offered “Snakes in a kettle!” “I pretty much just made it up on the spot,” he states, and it fit the story perfectly!

On Monday, May 6, Lisa Cluff, executive director of Art Works for Kids, the parent organization for the BTS program, visited HMK. She had a book for each student author-illustrator and asked the class what they liked most about the project. Joley Phillips summed it all up nicely when she replied, “I liked that it showed us all what we were capable of.”

“Students and teachers alike stretched and grew in this project,” said Hucko. “We were part of a larger celebration that reached both back and forward in time. I’m trusting that this experience will enrich these students’ lives for many years to come.”

The HMK graphic novel and all the others can be viewed on the BTS website at