Indie Ogden Spotlight – Utah: By Kids, For Kids

We all know that in Utah, our kids are the tops. But did you know some of our kids are published authors and illustrators?

Two teachers at Venture Academy, a K-12 charter school in Marriot-Slaterville have created proof-positive that in Utah, we believe in empowering our children to do incredible things.

Together with the instruction of social studies teachers Brett McAllister and Brett Cragun, and the assistance of the rest of the Venture Academy staff, 185 middle school students have published Utah’s first history book written solely by students.

Utah: By Kids, For Kids offers an eclectic collection of essays about the people, places, history and unique stories of our incredible state. The book takes an up close look at all things Utah; from local geographical features like the Great Salt Lake, to the influence of entrepreneur Stephen Covey, to the origins of our beloved fry-sauce. This book has Utah’s unique history covered in 108 pages and is a fun and educational read for kids (and parents) of all ages.

In the spirit of keeping it local, the project managers have partnered with Ogden’s own publishing company, Get My Story Published to bring the book to completion. Look for it at Booked on 25th, as well as other independent bookstores starting June 20th!

All book sales will be used to develop and enhance future social studies projects at Venture Academy, so we’re crossing our fingers that Utah: By Kids For Kids is only the beginning. Check out our interview with the Venture Academy teachers who facilitated the project, Brett McAllister and Brett Cragun. Then get your own copy of Utah: By Kids, For Kids today!


Interview with Brett McAllister and Brett Cragun, social studies teachers at Venture Academy.

 Tell us a little about yourselves!

Brett M:  I have lived in Utah most of my life.  I enjoy the family atmosphere as well as the scenic beauty.  I have a wife and five kids.  We try to do as many things as we can as a family, and that keeps my life pretty busy! I got into teaching a little later than most, teaching is my second career.  I taught a few years in a traditional public school and am now in my fourth year at Venture Academy.  I teach social studies at the middle school, which has been a passion of mine for many years. I enjoy sharing that passion with my students.

Brett C: I am a teacher entering my 3rd year at Venture Academy, where I teach middle school social studies. I studied social sciences and Spanish at Weber State University, with a career focus in geography teaching. I have lived in the Ogden area my whole life.  When I’m not working, I am an avid gardener, musician, and love to travel with my wife.

What prompted you to write a book about Utah with some of your students?

Brett M.: I was invited to attend a national teaching convention in Boston in December of 2014 to teach a master class to teachers from all over the country.  My class was on providing authenticity for the students.  After I finished my sessions, I had the opportunity to hear from others.  The founder of our school system was doing a presentation on sharing work within our network of schools and brought many examples.  As I was walking around the tables looking at examples I found a book at the bottom of a pile about the state of Wisconsin, written by middle school students.  I loved the book and through many days and emails, was able to track down the teacher responsible.  She sent me a copy of the book as well as shared with me her process.  I knew that our kids could do it, and probably improve it!

What did your project entail?

Brett C.:  The project began with basic Utah history review in the classroom, and two large-scale fieldwork experiences to help the kids put into context everything they were learning; the first including a visit to the “This is the Place” State Park and the Utah Museum of Natural History; the second a visit to Antelope Island State Park.

Later, each student began to focus his or her attention on a specific topic, person, or place unique to Utah and its history.  Students wrote a full-page essay on their chosen topics, and then went through an extensive summary and revision process, condensing their essays down to 200 words or less.  These smaller essays then went through an equally extensive editing process, utilizing themselves, fellow students, teachers, and other aides to help ensure a near-perfect product.

Each student not only put in hours of effort to create a concise and interesting written article, but they also worked closely with our school art specialist and teacher, Ann Mortenson to create detailed and unique visual representations of each topic.  Every page in the book features a large student-created art composition, as well as smaller spot art to increase understanding and interest to the reader.

How did the kids respond?

Brett M.: We knew what we were doing all year, so we made sure our students had the background knowledge to be successful.  They were overwhelmed at first.  They thought there was no way that they could write a book.  However, once they realized that they weren’t writing a book, they were writing a page in a book, it seemed more manageable.  They became very excited and wanted to work on it.  They couldn’t wait.  I never had any trouble keeping the kids on task because they were so motivated to finish.  In the end, they did amazing work. I am so proud of them!

What did you learn in the process?

Brett M.: Teamwork is vital.  There was not a teacher in the middle school that did not help out in some way.  Students can do really hard things if given the background, time, and support.  It’s amazing what kids can do if given the chance.  It helped affirm my belief in providing authentic work for an authentic audience.

Writing a book is really hard! Brett and I spent countless hours grading, helping design, and edit the book, and proofing the book, I think it was the seventh draft that finally passed. It is not a process for the faint of heart to be sure. Much of our free time went to the book and almost every day this summer, I’ve worked on and for the book in some way. It has been a huge commitment, but if we were going to do something this big, we figured we needed to follow through all the way.

Who do you think your book will appeal to?

Brett C.:  While the book is titled Utah: By Kids, For Kids, I think the book will be well-received by Utah’s senior residents, as well as parents and teachers across the state.  There is something in the book for everyone who has any connection to Utah.




Cindy is an Ogden native, aspiring author, freelance writer and mother of two girls. Her idea of a good time is lounging in the sun with a new book or exploring a trail with her quirky daughters. When she isn’t writing, mommying or making eyes at her husband of twenty years, you can find her capturing Ogden’s unique architecture from behind a camera lens, or sipping a dirty Chai at one of O-towns unique coffee shops.