Elisa Odegard, a 25-year teacher at Gideon Pond Elementary in Burnsville, remembers being in second grade when her teacher told her she should consider being an author someday.
Those words always stuck with her, Odegard said, but it was her experience as a teacher, feeling inspired by a student decades later, that finally put her dreams into motion.
Odegard’s children’s book, “Imagine: An Inspirational Story of Calming Strategies for Children,” was published this summer. The story aims to teach practical, imagination-driven calming strategies aimed at promoting mindfulness in early learners.
Along with the publishing of her book, she also founded a new nonprofit organization — Handprint On My Heart — dedicated to supporting children’s mental health needs and fostering stronger education and learning.
Children’s mental health concerns are presenting more and more challenges for teachers, Odegard said.
From her experiences dealing with manifestations of stress and trauma in the classroom, she grew her passion to help.
“It’s really affecting their ability to focus on learning,” she said.
Jon Butler, a former kindergarten student of Odegard’s, inspired the story’s central character.
Before graduating in 2019, Butler received national recognition for his performances in Burnsville High School’s theater productions.
He invited Odegard to attend performances after volunteering in his former teacher’s first grade classroom.
“Just seeing the joy on his face of him going after a passion of his, and I thought, what am I waiting for,” Odegard remembers, calling the moment of inspiration the “right place at the right time.”
With this inspiration in mind, the story she created takes place at school and follows “Jon” throughout the day as he helps each one of his peers cope with some sort of problem.
Odegard said Butler’s real-life compassionate, theatrical personality suited the character.
At the end of the story, Jon faces a stressful situation and all his peers return to him with the coping strategies he taught them.
“It just makes you realize that one small thing you can do for someone in their day can really make a difference in their lives,” Odegard said.
Four other characters are modeled after former students, she added, and four more characters are based on family members.
Butler, who will return to Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle this fall, said he’s proud of his former teacher.
“I really have a lot of admiration for her determination and her attitude, and her dedication to what this book means, and to her students,” he said.