Cheyenne Anderson and Isabel James are finishing the ninth grade at Bosque School.
At the same time, the two 15-year-olds are furiously finishing up a months-long labor of love outside of class.
Cheyenne and Isabel are the proofreaders, editors, layout designers and publishers of the soon-to-be-released large-format book “South Valley.”
“The main goal of the book is that kids see the (Albuquerque South Valley) community in a light that is positive and that it shouldn’t be bounded by the negative stereotypes that are put on our community,” Cheyenne said.
She wants readers, especially young people, to view the book’s art and poetry as works of beauty.
The book contains images of paintings by Bill Mohr, a South Valley neighbor of Cheyenne and her family.
“He looks at details that most people pass over and he brings out the beauty in them,” Cheyenne said of Mohr. “Some are buildings, some are street scenes. They are recognizable places in the South Valley.” Places like El Paisa Taqueria, Chavez Martial Arts and Five Points Beauty Salon.
Cheyenne and Isabel, a former South Valley resident, chose the Mohr paintings and the poems that are in the book.
Most of the poems were written by elementary school youngsters living in the South Valley and by Bosque School students.
And there’s a bonus – work by three famous poets – Albuquerque’s Jimmy Santiago Baca, Luis J. Rodriguez of Los Angeles, and the late Mary Oliver.
Cheyenne said in an email that Baca is a friend of her father, Lonnie Anderson, and that Rodriguez is a close friend of her uncle, Albino Garcia, director of La Plazita Institute, a grassroots community organization in the South Valley. Cheyenne is a longtime volunteer at La Plazita, one of many of her community activities.
Oliver, who died in 2019, was a favorite poet of her father’s and grandfather’s, she said.
“We felt it would be a more powerful experience if these young writers could have their poems published alongside famous and well-known poets they might not otherwise have access to,” Cheyenne said.
Cheyenne’s father said Baca and Mohr have been supporters of the book project from the get-go.
Bosque School is helping Cheyenne and Isabel promote the book but it is not paying for the printing, he said.
“(Cheyenne and Isabel) are fundraising and using some of their own money for the short printing run at first,” Anderson wrote in an email. “They figured out a way to print a few books at a time inexpensively through an online photo book printing site. … They hope to show other students how to self-publish their books.”
Cheyenne said she and Isabel want to place copies of the book in libraries of schools in the South Valley and at Little Free Libraries. From there, they want to widen the placement of the book to other schools in the Albuquerque area. Those placements, she said, take priority over selling the book.
Cheyenne said they hope to organize readings of the book at public libraries.
Jessie Barrie, Bosque School’s head of school, wrote in an email that “Cheyenne and Isabel have beautifully showcased the sense of curiosity, academic excellence and creativity that we hope to foster at Bosque School. Two of our core values are ‘cultivating community’ and ‘learning from place,’ and their book is a wonderful manifestation of both.”
Besides celebrating their beloved South Valley community and uplifting its stories and people, Barrie said, the book is “a gift to all of Albuquerque” and shows that “age doesn’t limit one’s potential or reach.”
Pheladi MacDonald, a third-grader at Mountain Mahogany Community School, is one of the younger South Valley poets in the book. In it is her short poem “Outside”: “Summer breeze, / Winter freeze, and / Everything from above / Trees rustle and bees / Buzz, all when everybody’s / Humming along.”
Cheyenne said the project is inspiring her to pursue publishing more books. One may be a photography book about a Two-Spirit Initiative in the South Valley that links Native youth and LGBTQ+ youth.
For more information about the “South Valley” book project go to @southvalleybook on Instagram.