Orion Grade School Secretary Publishes Middle Grade Novel

Staff Writer
Aledo Times Record
McConaghy used Orion students as models for the book's main characters. Laynee Masias is Noelle (left); Claire McLoone is Regan (center) and Caden Jackson is Connor (right).

A school field trip prompted Orion's grade school secretary, Diane Owens, to create a world of trouble and mystery in her first published children's book, Swept Up.

Owens was inspired when her daughter returned from Junior Achievement's BizTown. Area students visit this simulated town, located in downtown Davenport, to apply business and political concepts they learn in school.

"She had a great time," Owens said. "I don't know why I felt the need to add an angry janitor, an evil giant and a witch who gushes water from her mouth. I really have no excuse for turning a positive experience like BizTown into something so troubling."

In Owens' middle grade novel, an old janitor locks the entire sixth grade inside a simulated town. Pretty and popular Regan Jones plans an easy escape, but kids who normally hang on her every word refuse to listen. Instead, they seem strangely committed to the janitor. Worse, they don't want to leave - ever. As the fake town turns dangerously real, Regan fights to save herself. But she'll have to face some hard truths and become a true leader to save them all.

Alyce McConaghy, a fourth-grade teacher at C.R. Hanna Elementary School, designed and illustrated the cover. In keeping with the theme of unreal elements clashing with reality, McConaghy combined photography with illustration. "Alyce and her entire class read the book," Owens said, "so she really understood its message. I love the cover because it's hard to tell which parts are real and which parts aren't."

McConaghy used Orion students as models for the book's main characters. Laynee Masias is Noelle; Claire McLoone is Regan and Caden Jackson is Connor. "They're all perfect," Owens said. "I'm so happy their families allowed them to do this."

Owens is a graduate of the University of Iowa and the Institute of Children's Literature. Her short stories and articles have been published in children's magazines, writers' newsletters and online. She also assists and motivates young writers at allwritewithme.com.

Swept Up is available for online purchase at offthebookshelf.com for $7.99. A sample of the book can be read at allwritewithme.com. Owens is available for author visits and can be contacted at dianeowens@allwritewithme.com.