"It's a dramatic transformation," says Ann Koffsky of West Hempstead.
After nearly a decade of teaching youngsters to swim while working as a lifeguard at the Ruach Day Camp's Uniondale campus, she has always been in awe of the rapid progress her small students make.
"They go from being really nervous about getting their faces wet to by the end, they're floating on their backs," Koffsky said. "They get so excited."
Koffsky's desire to capture that moment and share it with the world inspired her to create her first full-length children's book, Noah's Swim-A-Thon, which was recently published by URJ Press.
The mother of three, who is also active with the PTA for the Hebrew Academy of Nassau County in West Hempstead, has crafted over 20 workbooks, craft books and shorter picture books but nothing like this.
“Noah’s Swim-a-thon, is really close to my heart," she told Patch back in December as she was awaiting the release of the book. " My two main jobs are an illustrator and, during the summers, a lifeguard. I never expected that I would get the chance to combine them. I believe it was the book I was meant to make.”
As both the author and the illustrator, Koffsky produced the story and all of the artwork. She began writing in late 2007 and had the manuscript finished within a few months, but had to wait over two years before she received the green light from the publishers to start drawing the illustrations.
"A big part of the process was getting PJ Library on board," Koffsky said.
The award-winning program works in partnership with local leaders and organizations, and the Harold Grinspoon Foundation (HGF) to provide free books that promote Jewish themes to children around the world.
Koffsky said PJ Library expressed an interest in her manuscript early on and provided feedback.
"They were a part of the whole process," she said. "It was a huge honor."
The publisher gave her the okay to proceed with the illustrations just before the summer of 2010, but with her duties - and her young swimmers - at the camp calling, she had to put the assignment on hold until the fall. She worked hard for nearly three months bringing her story to life with her vibrant art and submitted the final product in November.
When she was finished, she dedicated the book to her husband and children, but also to her brave young campers who were "willing to the take the plunge."
Her main character, Noah (She wanted a name that was "water-related.) is like many of the children she encounters who have never swam before.
"He doesn't want to go into the pool, says Koffsky. "He's a reluctant swimmer but decides that swim-a-thon is a good enough reason to learn how to swim."
In the book, the swim-a-thon raises money for less fortunate children to attend camp. Koffsky explained that she was inspired by a similar event held at Camp Ruach each year to support a charity called Chai Lifeline, which provides services, including a camp program, for Jewish children who are seriously ill.
She said she found a creative way to include the name of the charity in the book's illustrations. "That's me kind of winking at that," she added.
While the book does contain some Hebrew words and elements of Judaism, Koffsky said the story has universal appeal.
"The idea of charity ("Tzedakah" in Hebrew) is not just a Jewish value," she says.
In fact, Koffsky was recently invited to St. Thomas the Apostle School, a Catholic School in West Hempstead, to speak to the students about the book.
The book, only available in hardcover retails for $14.95. It is geared toward ages 4 to 8 years old, Koffsky said, adding that it "has a lot of words but is still a picture book."
Right not it can be purchased at the Long Island Judaica store in West Hempstead or online at urjbooksandmusic.org. (It will be coming to Amazon.com and Barnes and Nobles soon.) You can also reserve it from the West Hempstead Public Library.
So what's next for West Hempstead's own Shel Silverstein?
"I have things percolating," Koffsky said. "I have a bunch of manuscripts that have been sent out to different publishers and I will be teaching swimming again this summer."
She advises other aspiring artists like herself to keep honing their craft.
"This freelance life is very unpredictable, but if you want to be a good artist just keep drawing and if you want to be writer just keep writing," she said. "You can't be scared to make mistakes. It's part of the process."
She also says it's important to embrace the technology that is out there today. When she studied art 15 years ago, most of these high-tech tools did not exist, but she says she has self-taught herself how the apply them to her work. Even though she uses traditional methods to create her illustrations, she said she needed to know how to scan the sketches to send to publishers and make corrections using Photoshop software. She even made her own trailer to promote the book. (Click the video on the right to view it.)
"Even when you're painting with a brush, you still need to know technology, because the world is changing," she said.
She pointed out that just like the earliest people switched from writing and drawing on stones to scrolls, today there is a transition from printed books to electronic devices taking place.
However, she did add that despite the changes in how this content is being delivered to readers, there is one thing that will remain constant.
"There will always be story-telling. It is universal. It's a human need.