Purple Pride: Author ‘really loves K-State’

Greg Tammen

“W is for Willie ... wait a minute, that's me! I really love K-State as you can see,” Willie the Wildcat tells readers in the pages of “Willie's ABC Day.”

The book, stocked by various distributors throughout Kansas, was written by 1972 McPherson High School graduate Deanna K. Burton.

Burton said she and her family are huge Kansas State University fans.

“K-State is a place we enjoy and we always go to the ballgames,” she told reporter Jessica Grant of The Manhattan Mercury. However, most readers would be surprised to learn that Burton spent only a tiny part of her formal education at K-State, earning only nine hours of graduate work. Instead, Burton earned her bachelor's degree from Emporia State University and her master's degree and reading specialist certificate from Wichita State University.

“I actually first started out at Hutch Juco,” Burton said with a chuckle.

While there, she met her husband and decided to pursue a teaching career. While K-State was put on the backburner for several years, Burton never lost her purple pride.

Having already written the book, Parenting Your Child For School Success, Burton began toying with the idea of Willie's ABC Day.

“(Reading is) vital. It's just something that you start from the day you're born,” Burton said. “A logical place is to start with an ABC book, and with my love of K-State, it just kind of fit it.”

It wasn't until she and her friends -- Sharon K. Beems, a former teaching colleague who illustrated the book, and Kathy Monser, who helped with design -- decided to collaborate that their idea was launched.

K-State officials convinced the trio to use the cartoon version of Willie rather than the Powercat during their contact to secure the mascot rights. After a year of working through the writing, illustrating, design and publication process, the book was completed.

It features Willie at various locations and situations at KSU. Each K-State location corresponds to a letter of the alphabet.

For example, the letter “K” stands for K-Hill, the large whitewashed stone “KS” overlooking the Kansas River Valley in south-east Manhattan. The illustration shows Willie in hiking boots and a walking stick with the letters in the distance. Above him is a short poem about K-Hill, which reads:

“Next we visit K-Hill which starts with an enormous K.

Those 80-foot tall letters can be seen in Manhattan every day.

Willie looks at the K and then at the S.

He is bursting with pride because K-State is the absolute best!”

Beside each illustration is “A Touch of History,” a section of historical snippets about each alphabetical subject. For K-Hill, Burton wrote “The K was constructed in 1921 for the cost of $350...”

“The historical pieces were a little harder to write,” she said. “I tried to put in one historical fact that was interesting and one that I thought people wouldn't know.”

While some of the book's words may be a little foreign to young readers (especially ‘H' for “horticultural” and ‘N' for “natatorium”), Burton insists these words are not above children's comprehension.

“Are they a little large for them? Absolutely not,” she said. “You develop a listening vocabulary, so while they may not be able to read the word at first, they'll recognize it when it's spoken.”

Burton said the book is doing so well that she and her team are planning on creating a University of Kansas edition as soon as finances allow them.

She said she is interested in branching out from there.

“We want to go where there's a big fan base, and do some of the Big 12 schools. That's our goal,” she said.

She said that while she hasn't yet considered doing a Bullpup edition for McPherson, it's not entirely out of the realm of possibility.

“It would be fantastic,” Burton said. “I was born here, and went to school here from the second grade to graduation, so the town's very special to me.”

Even though the book is written for the K-State enthusiast, Burton said her ultimate goal is to foster a love of reading in children.

“I love reading, and I know my children and grandchildren think it's fun when I read to them. It's been amazing to hear the vocabulary my children have because of their experience though reading,” she said.

Burton's book is available for purchase at McPherson's Bookshelf, 204 N. Main, and through her Web site Mascot ABC (http://mascotabc.com). Burton, who lives in Manhattan, will return to McPherson for a book signing at the Bookshelf on Sept. 29.

McPherson Sentinel