Sharon Ray loved to teach. She also loves to write, and with the help of some of Durango's most creative minds she has combined those passions into a series of children's books that are a hometown product from start to finish - almost.
"It's been so fun doing the self-publishing. I'm able to have 100 percent control over the process," Ray said Thursday before reading Jumping the Grate to a group of students at Sunnyside Elementary School Kid's Kamp.
Jumping the Grate is the first in a series of six planned titles by Ray, who enlisted the talents of Durango artist Shan Wells for four of the six, including the debut volume.
It's the story of Sam the salmon, who breaks away from the comforts of his home lake and friends for the Ocean of Sparkling Waters.
Ray writes to the themes of aspiration, awareness and appreciation - Sam represents Ray's "Adventures in Aspiration" series - and she said elementary schoolchildren will enjoy the book. Kindergartners, few of whom are ready for the relatively advanced texts, can nonetheless glean life's lessons by listening to the stories read aloud.
"I watched a teacher read it to two classes, and the kids got absorbed in the story even though they couldn't read it themselves," she said.
She said the texts can be used to teach second- and third-graders reading skills and fourth- and fifth-graders can learn self-reading skills.
Each book also comes with an accompanying music CD, which is an integral part of Ray's mission: "To love children, by inspiring their hearts with meaningful stories and joyful music."
Ray wrote the songs and recorded the tracks with local musicians Kelly Rogers, Brian Ehrens, Jeff Solon, Amy Foster, Cindy Troutman and Dean Mullen - now deemed The Band of Light.
After teaching for more than 10 years in the Los Angeles-Culver City unified school districts, Ray moved to Durango in 2003 to write. Seeking guidance, she sent some of her stories to her parents, who jointly prodded her to enter the world of children's literature.
Last December, she created Ray of Light Books. With the control inherent as a self-publisher, she is able to incorporate her personal philosophy into every aspect of production.
Each book is created in the cyberworld of a desktop computer and sent to Maracle Press of Canada for printing. The company uses American-made and recycled New Leaf Paper and soy-based inks. Even the chipboard used in the books' covers is 100 percent recycled, and the covers themselves are glazed clay buffed to a shiny luster.
"I'm very proud to say that no trees were felled in the manufacture of my books," Ray said.
With the printing of Jumping the Grate, Ray hopes Ray of Light will be a self-sustaining enterprise. She recently received 1,300 copies of the first book, and with five manuscripts "in the can," her focus has shifted to marketing.
Sales from the book will be used to print the next volume, and so on. She has chosen to forego booksellers for now, opting instead to sell the books directly to schools and individuals through her Web site.
She said most bookstores typically keep about 40 percent of the cover price, and she would rather reinvest that money or donate it to worthy children's programs.
A portion of sales from Thursday's event at Sunnyside will be given back to the school for its after-school program next year.
"If I'm selling direct, I can afford to help people out," Ray said.