Dyhemia “Dye Dye” Cummings and Lena Gooden holding their book

At the Virginia Educators Rising Conference and Competition held recently, a duck who stutters and a llama with a long neck debuted, winning the hearts of the audience and earning first place in Children’s Literature K-3 for their story of acceptance.

Dye Dye the Duck and Lena the Llama are the loveable protagonists of Osbourn Park High School seniors Dyhemia “Dye Dye” Cummings and Lena Gooden’s children’s book “Different.”

The story is about preschool class full of colorful critters who learn that “being different” is just another way of saying “being special.” The co-author, Dye Dye stated, “We both decided we wanted to write this book about the trials of our lives. I was bullied for the way I speak, for stuttering. And [Lena] was bullied for her body.”

Lena chimes in, “We’re all different, but that’s what makes us fun. Even our Teachers for Tomorrow class. We have so many different ethnic backgrounds and personalities. You can collaborate with other people no matter who they are, you can work for, under, around other people, as long as you embrace those differences, that is what matters.”

With a beaming smile, Christina Mullins, Virginia Teachers for Tomorrow Instructor, summarized, “Everyone is special in their own way. I was just so proud of them for coming up with this by pulling from their real lives. It takes a lot of confidence and vulnerability to be able to put themselves into a story and tell your story to other people.”

“I feel like it is more impactful,” commented Dye Dye, “I think kids really understand when [an authentic narrative] comes from a real source.”

Both Dye Dye and Lena feel it is a privilege to be able to tell their story from their perspective. Both have felt the sting of societal prejudice and social ostracization, and both authors recognize the necessity and power in presenting authentic narratives and shared communal experiences.

When reflecting upon reading their story, Dye Dye and Lena sounded very much like their story counterparts. “I was scared because I don’t do well with public speaking, especially when I read out loud, because I stutter a lot,” confessed Dye Dye. “But I also thought the judges would not understand me.”

After some confidence from Lena, who has been public speaking since sixth grade, the two took the stage and read their heartwarming book of friendship, difference, and acceptance. The judges awarded them first place.

With a lingering hint of disbelief, Lena recalled, “I just stared at the screen and was like, ‘Wow.’”

Dye Dye remembered a different perspective. She noticed her class was the largest and most diverse of the other competing schools, but also her team was having the most fun.

Dye Dye hopes to eventually return to PWCS as a teacher and show her students that different means special. Lena wants to pursue a career as a doctor at a teaching hospital so she can practice and teach medicine.

The authors will be competing in June at the Educators Rising National Conference in Orlando, Florida.