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“Dream Big” is the title and message in a book co-authored by a Westford educator and the director of the Boston Marathon.
Abbot Elementary school reading specialist Nancy Feehrer and Boston Marathon director Dave McGillivray just published their children’s book entitled, “Dream Big: A True Story of Courage and Determination.” Their illustrated work was acknowledged and celebrated at the Westford School Committee meeting on April 23, when Superintendent Bill Olsen commemorated them with a certificate of achievement.
Feehrer first began writing the book’s manuscript after McGillivray gave a motivational speech to Abbot third-graders. There, Feehrer said, something McGillivray relayed to the children inspired her to take the leap and ask him to work with her.
“He had 400 kids on a hardwood floor with bad acoustics riveted for 45 minutes, and when he told the story that we retold at ‘Dream Big,’ the kids erupted in applause,” Feehrer said.
“I went home and I was thinking about it, and I thought ‘who am I to approach this famous person and suggest we write a picture book together, I mean, who does that right?’ but one thing he said in his talk, that he was encouraging the kids with was, ‘the worst injustice you can ever do to yourself is to underestimate your own worthiness,’ and those words just kept running through my head so I said, ‘you know, I’m going to try this,’” she said.
Now an accomplished athlete, a giant in the running world, and a successful philanthropist, McGillivray has taken on everything from seven marathons in seven days, to at the age of 63, continuing to run his age in miles every year, but, McGillivray said, making it to this point in his career was an uphill battle for him.
In “Dream Big,” McGillivray writes about when, as an adolescent, he first aspired to be a professional athlete, only to struggle with sports as the team runt.
“I was fortunate, but I was challenged. I was vertically challenged, as you can tell, but I always wanted to be an athlete, and I kept getting cut from the teams, and I was always the last pick. But then I started running and I found a different path. There’s always a different path toward your ultimate goal in life,” McGillivray said.
Feehrer and McGillivray not only created a book for children to read, but one for them to help write. Although illustrated by accomplished children’s book author and illustrator Ron Himler, “Dream Big” was partially created by Abbot students. In their writing process, Feehrer and McGillivray sought writing and art suggestions from children throughout the Abbot School in order to tell the story in a way that engages kids.
Students were asked, for instance, to create drawings of McGillivray’s story the way they had envisioned it, and Himler based many of his own illustrations off of the kids’ ideas.
At the Westford School Committee meeting, Feehrer displayed Himler’s final illustrations side-by-side with the students’ art projects in order to exhibit the influence that these children had on the project.
“For two and a half years now since we’ve been working on this, the kids have come up to me almost every day and asked ‘how’s the book coming?’ and ‘What’s the update?’ they’d been asking me about the manuscript and [saying] ‘here’s a title I have,’ and they were so excited about the writing process because it was so authentic, and it was actually going to be published; not just shown to someone, or shown to a teacher,” Feehrer said, “I feel like they had this huge spark of excitement around an authentic writing project,” she said.
According to McGillivray, he did not co-write the children’s book for any personal gains, but rather, to inspire young children to work hard for their dreams, while also giving back to those who have not the chance to dream.
While proceeds from “Dream Big” will benefit The Joseph Middlemiss Big Heart Foundation, McGillivray said that he and Feehrer have already begun co-writing their next childrens’ book, “The Home Run,” following the story of McGillivray’s 3,452-mile run in 1978 from Medford, Oregon to Medford, Massachusetts to raise money for the Jimmy Fund.
“All this is about giving back and giving kids a second chance to follow their dreams and follow their hearts,” McGillivray said.
Anthony Cammalleri is a Westford Academy senior completing is capstone internship at WestfordCAT.