Student, Resident Team Up to Create Children’s Book
WETHERSFIELD - Daniella Minichino was a fourth-grader when she first met Andrea Velez, a teacher’s aide in her class.

       The two conversed about a book Velez had started writing--a children’s story inspired by her great grandparents’ vegetable garden. Minichino said she has known that she loves to draw “since I could pick up a crayon,” but what she didn’t know at that time was that nine years later her talents would provide the visuals for Velez’s newly-released title, The Eggplant Contest.

       “I remember her telling me about it in fourth grade, and all those years later, I’m the illustrator,” Minichino said.

       Not bad for a 16-year old, especially considering the fact that the Wethersfield High School junior never had any formal artistic training.

       “I never had lessons,” Minichino said. “I could never afford them, so I’m self-taught.”

       Achieving a lot with little to no instruction is one thing the author and illustrator of The Eggplant Contest have in common--this is the first book Velez has ever written.

       “What inspired me to write this were my great-grandparents,” Velez said. “This is about them--how many people get to meet their great-grandparents?”

       The story is centered on two girls whose great-grandparents’ vegetable gardens neighbor one another. The two enter, and win, a contest for the best eggplant, reflecting an experience from Velez’s childhood in which her and a close friend earned a prize for tomatoes they had grown.

       Minichino said that she kept that in mind in her drawings.

       “I tried to keep the style like a memory, sort of like a flashback,” she said.

       For Velez, the memory is a reminder of the importance of keeping family close.

       “I don’t know if it’s so much a lesson,” Velez said. “I think there’s a lot of family values and that extended family you don’t hear about so much, because people go their separate ways.”

       Whether Velez and Minichino go their separate ways or continue working together, they both know that they have found a calling.

       “I’d like to write another book,” Velez said.

       And Minichino has known what her dream is for as long as she can remember.

       “I love drawing,” she said. “Any chance I get, I’ll do it. I’m applying for an art college. This is what I want to do.”

       She’s hoping that her experience with the book, combined with her work in Wethersfield High School’s student-run Pieces Literary Magazine, an art and poetry publication, will be enough for her to attend Old Lyme Arts College. Her drawings from The Eggplant Contest, which were done in a style that differs from what she’s used to, already show versatility.

       “I’d prefer to do fantasy art--this is pretty out of my style, which made it such a challenge,” Minichino said. “I like drawing people, different worlds, horror and things like that. I like anything with a concept to it.”

       The Eggplant Contest was published through New Britain-based TH Circle Publishing. It hit bookstores in September.