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Colorado writer’s book created to help kids feel comfortable

Brielle Kelley sat down with a microphone in one hand and a book in the other. As she prepared to read, dozens of little faces peered back at her with anticipation. As she told the story of Lenny, a skunk just starting kindergarten who was nervous about making friends, elementary schoolers laughed, gasped and giggled at his adventures.

Kelley, 24, of Fort Collins, kicked off a national book tour in late March, spending a couple weeks reading to kids in schools across Poudre School District. The rest of the tour will stop in classrooms in Boulder, Texas, Virginia, Kentucky and Washington, D.C. The book has been published in 14 different countries.

Kelley, a 2013 Poudre High School graduate, wrote the book while she was a sophomore and first published it in 2012. Since then, the bilingual book, "The Little Skunk who was Afraid to Stink," has caught international attention.

The book follows Lenny, who is afraid the other animals won't like him if he makes a stink. He uses a variety of tricks to cover up his scent but eventually learns his true friends will love him for who he is.

"I hope it helps kids dig deep into who they are and realize their true value," Kelley said.

Kelley got the idea to write about Lenny when she thought back to her own experience being bullied in school. There were times, she said, when she didn't want to go because of a couple mean girls on the playground. At recess, they would make fun of her for the clothes she wore and would tell others not to play with her. It was tough then, she said, but now she draws from that experience to help other kids feel comfortable in their own skin.

She stopped by Irish Elementary School, a dual language school in Fort Collins, on March 28. She read part of the book out loud in the school's library, stopping to ask and answer questions along the way.

A sea of students leaned in close, listening attentively. Little hands shot up in droves when Kelley asked questions.

When a couple students asked how she became a writer, she told them she wrote her book when she was just a little older than they are now and that she loved to write and practiced even when she went to elementary school. That's when she started to learn Spanish, too — at Harris Bilingual School.

But the idea to write a children's book first took hold when she was in high school and had to take on a personal project for a class. Her options were limitless, but she knew she wanted to work on something that allowed her to combine several different passions, including her desire to work with children, her love of Spanish and her appreciation of cultural diversity.

A bilingual children's book was perfect, she thought.

When Kelley read parts of her book in Spanish at Irish, many kids in the library lit up with excitement.

That kind of recognition, inclusion and support is important, especially for kids who come from a diverse background, Kelley said. She holds firm to that, even when she gets some backlash for her book.

"There have been people who have said, 'We don't need this in our country,' when they see the Spanish," Kelley said. "But embracing diversity allows us to grow and expand our horizons."

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