Two alumni share big ideas for young minds in their recently published works

By Mary Chow, Contributing Writer

Alumni Damian Synadinos (WC ’92) and Jeremy Slagle (WC ’93) will reach similar milestones this year as they each prepare to publish their first children’s book. Author and illustrator, Synadinos, playfully brings eight improvisational speaking rules to life in his book, “Hank and Stella in Something From Nothing.” Meanwhile, illustrator Slagle, uses a huggable Chinchilla character to tell a charming story on empathy in his book, “Chin Up, Chinchilla,” authored by Beth Stafford. Though the journeys of Synadinos and Slagle are undoubtedly unique, their treks share some commonalities.

The inspiration for both books came from a few special kids. For Synadinos, it was his own two children, Alena, age seven, and Zacharya, age five. He says, “Why do I want to write a children’s book? First and foremost to help my kids laugh while they learn.” Likewise, in “Chin Up, Chinchilla,” the idea of nurturing empathy came from the author’s own daughter, who, at a very young age, began showing concern for others.

Although the projects themselves took about four to six months to complete, there were years of experience that marked the way. In Synadinos’ case, he began doing improvisational comedy 10 years ago, speaking at international conferences four years ago, and finally started his own company as a professional speaker and trainer just two years ago. Though he plans to continue the “Hank and Stella” series, he intends to do it simply as an “interesting, fun, meaningful diversion.”

Meanwhile, Slagle, upon graduating from WC landed various jobs in apparel and retail companies, as well as film and print agencies, before launching his own company nine years ago. Interestingly, Slagle had always dreamed of one day illustrating a children’s book, so when this divine opportunity came about through his friendship with the Stafford family, he felt it was an answered prayer. He remarked, “when you feel like you are called to do something, pray about it. He usually answers, and a lot of times it comes in a better way than expected.”

Both books, while produced primarily for children, target multiple audiences. One of Synadinos’ reviewers commented, “I may even use some of the rhymes for the university students I teach to help them remember the principles. As an educational tool, it is simple, clever, and well-explained.” But more than simple speaking strategies, Synadinos hopes to also help people “develop their imaginations, play cooperatively, embrace diversity, [and] increase their confidence.”

Similarly, the topic of empathy addressed in “Chin Up, Chinchilla” carries profound lessons for people of all ages. Slagle states, “We are hoping that as parents read to their kids, it becomes something they read for themselves too.” The book includes a set of reflective questions in the back, challenging all members of the family to begin recognizing emotions in others.

Both projects, though quite different in nature, capture a new level of creativity, while leaving behind lasting messages for their readers.