By Katie Bohannon, News Editor
One local elementary school staff member is making her authorial debut official.
On February 27 from 12 p.m. – 3 p.m., Gaston Elementary employee Nannie Ferguson Crozier will host a book signing at the Gadsden Mall for her first children’s book, Rocky and the Butterfly Garden.
Born in Fort Knox, Kentucky, Crozier was raised in Gadsden before taking a custodial position at Gaston Elementary in 2003, where she has remained for 17 years. Inspired by the staff and children she loves, for years Crozier discovered positive messages of encouragement to pass along each day – and the result was something she never imagined.
“It didn’t start out to be a book, it just started out as something for me to encourage kids,” said Crozier.
Rocky and the Butterfly Garden began with a conversation. Crozier recalls talking with a fellow coworker about the school’s butterfly garden, which was in the process of being moved to another location at the school. When a child gave Crozier a simple gift one day, everything changed – inspiring Crozier to connect the dots and manifest an idea into a reality.
“The kindergarten and elementary kids are always bringing me something or giving me something,” said Crozier. “One little girl brought me a string off her pompom, and I wore it on my name badge for about a year until I lost it. The day the kindergartener gave me that rock, I said, ‘What can I do to piggyback off this rock?’ The little boy probably just picked it up off the sidewalk and said, ‘Miss Nannie, I brought you something!’ and when he opened his hand, it was just a rock. But that’s what inspired me to paint it, because I’m always trying to do something to motivate the kids.”
Rocky, as the rock was lovingly named, became one of Crozier’s methods of motivation for her students. Though she discovered new methods of encouragement for the children from year to year, Rocky quickly proved a popular addition to Gaston Elementary. Crozier often wore Rocky on her shoulder for the children to pet and rolled him around on her cleaning cart, where he lived in the home Crozier built for him. Crozier even let the students take Rocky home with them, returning to school some days with a pony or others a dog for his house, having experienced new adventures the night before.
When the kids returned Rocky to Crozier the following day, she would imagine his adventures and share fun stories with the children. Gaston Elementary Counselor Heath McLeod realized what Crozier was doing and the potential that resided in her stories, and prompted her to consider writing a book.
“This is the first book I ever wrote,” said Crozier. “Writing was never thought about or discussed [before this]. That’s the reason why I was nervous to do it, because that’s just not my comfort zone…that’s just not me.”
Crozier soon explored the world outside her comfort zone, adopting the challenge of trying something new in the process. She began writing down Rocky’s adventures and taking her manuscript to the best audience available – the students at school. She asked the students their opinion of the book-in-progress, gleaming valuable feedback from them as to what they liked and disliked about the story. She noted one sixth grader’s analysis of the book that she will never forget.
“Ms. Nannie,” the sixth grader said. “It’s good, but it needs a little more kick at the end!”
In Rocky and the Butterfly Garden, Rocky lives in a butterfly garden at Lost Garden Elementary School, until one day his home moves locations. As Rocky and his companions find themselves carried to their new home, Rocky falls off a tractor – with the result being one adventure after another. Crozier shared that throughout her writing process, a parallel meaning sprouted from the book’s plotline.
Inspired by a friend who served as a foster parent, Crozier believed that her calling was to care for children in the same manner.
“[Rocky] brought back the memories of the kids in foster care that had to be uprooted and moved to a different place,” said Crozier. “I wanted the kids, if they read it, to understand that just because you have to up and move doesn’t mean it’s all bad. There are some positives in that also.”
For years, Crozier welcomed children and teenagers into her home through foster care. She shared the philosophy she adopted when parenting foster children, emphasizing that she never stressed that her way was right and their past was wrong, but to just give her a try and understand that her way is best at the moment because she is the authority figure. She learned that with a little listening ear and patience, then both she and the kids were successful.
“Change can bring new beginnings,” said Crozier. “I always explain to the kids that I’m standing in the gap. The Lord didn’t encourage me to adopt, because if I adopt, who is going to stand in the gap for the next group of kids?”
Crozier maintains strong relationships with almost all her foster children, with several teenagers who have since been adopted returning to her home for visits. She is the grandmother and godmother to her foster children’s own babies, who pass her caring nature from generation to generation. Crozier even volunteers at her local community theater as a result of one of her foster children, who was interested in performing.
“Just watching my young man perform [in the play] I fell in love with theater,” said Crozier. “I think some kids play sports and some kids play instruments, but theater is a perfect fit for shy kids [to gain confidence].”
Crozier admitted that the community response to Rocky and the Butterfly Garden has proved paramount, with a flood of support rushing in from all throughout the area. While she researched and found that ten people attending a book signing usually signifies a successful event, from the evidence of excitement circulating among her friends and family, she anticipates she will meet that standard – or hopefully, even surpass it.
“The response to the book has been wonderful,” said Crozier. “I kind of got overwhelmed myself. The kids, the kids’ parents and my coworkers have been wonderful. Because it’s new to me, if my coworkers at school and my family hadn’t stayed on me and said, ‘You can do it,’ I probably wouldn’t have done it. My coworkers have been really encouraging about it, and the kids also. The kids would always ask me, ‘Is the book ready?’ They’re really excited about it.”
She expressed her gratitude for those who helped her along the way, noting her publisher who traveled from Dothan to discuss the book from Rapier Publishing Company.
Since its publication, Rocky has traveled far beyond Alabama, finding an audience in Kentucky and even Sweden.
“Thank you for the encouragement and support,” said Crozier. “Not buying books, but believing in me.”
From creating a tree of treats for students to pick as their reward for a well-accomplished week, to radiating positivity through message of encouragement and kind words, to opening her home to children and teenagers throughout the county, to authoring a book that represents the essence of wonder and new beginnings, Crozier emerges as a priceless pillar in her community and a true inspiration.
Through her years of humble service and diligence, she nurtures an unbreakable sense of hope in children, reminding them that there will forever remain caring individuals in life to comfort, support and guide them as they discover their purpose. While the lives Crozier has touched from decade to decade are endless, her message to each stands resolute as a final boost of reassurance for whatever life might bring.
“Remember,” she said. “Ms. Nannie believes in you.”