In 34 colorful, imaginative pages, Abigail and The Fish Tree, by Sonali Ranaweera, relates the story of a young girl who uses her curiosity and creativity to produce a gardening wonder in her family’s backyard. When she sees that the fish tree she grew is not perfect — after all, the tree has a fishy smell; and birds can steal the fish off the tree — Abigail instinctively does what almost any inventor knows: makes plans to improve the next version.
Intended for children ages 5 to 8, Abigail and The Fish Tree promises to become a valuable tool for encouraging youngsters to not only enhance their reading skills but also encourage them to explore their creativity. Older elementary and middle school students can also use the book in writing assignments — as an example of how to use their imaginations.
“Since the inception of the IEEE-USA E-BOOKS program, our mission has been to provide information and ideas that help to support members’ continued professional development,” says Georgia Stelluto, IEEE-USA publishing manager, and manager/ editor, IEEE-USA E-BOOKS. “Many engineers say their own curiosity about improving the world around them began at an early age, so we are delighted to publish this beautiful and quality children’s e-book to help stimulate more young imaginations.”
Author Sonali Ranaweera believes that young children should be encouraged to expand their imagination, and think outside the box. “The story I tell is not realistic, but that’s okay,” she explains. “Whether writing a book or doing almost anything else creative, it’s important to use your imagination. It opens doors to other worlds, and may even help a person to become more open-minded to new ideas.”
Now 17 and a senior at Del Mar High School in San Jose, California, Sonali wrote the story when she was 11, and in the sixth grade, at Rolling Hills Middle School, in Los Gatos.
At the time, it was just a class obligation — but serendipity quickly stepped in. A series of events that followed inspired Sonali — much like Abigail, the central character in her e-book — to think outside the box.
For Christmas in 2011, her parents gave her $100, with the instructions to use the money to make a difference in someone else’s life. Sonali already knew about Smile Train, an organization that provides free cleft surgery to thousands of children in developing countries, and she wanted to use the money to help fund a child’s operation. But she still needed an additional $150 toward the total cost of $250.
In Sonali’s earth science class at school, she and her classmates were learning about recycling — and that the California Redemption Value (CRV) pays for returning recyclable aluminum, glass and plastic beverage containers. Sonali immediately realized she could make the crucial $150 by collecting recyclables from her family and friends, and redeeming the cans and bottles for cash. A few months later, she was able to donate $250 to Smile Train.
“This made me feel so good, that I didn’t want to stop,” she recalls.
In March of 2012, Sonali started Recycling4Smiles, a philanthropic organization that raises money for cleft surgeries, as well as other child-related causes. The charity donates 100% of the CRV refunds it receives from the recyclables family, friends, businesses and neighbors donate. To date, Recycling4Smiles has raised — and donated — some $75,000. After fulfilling an annual commitment to Smile Train, other beneficiaries have included: Doctors without Borders, for their efforts in helping children; UNICEF work following earthquakes in Ecuador and Nepal; dental care for youngsters in rural areas of Sri Lanka; and several groups in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Besides the impressive monetary contributions, Recycling4Smiles has also kept almost 38 tons of aluminum, plastic and glass out of landfills. That’s about 1.5 million cans, bottles and other beverage containers.
Sonali’s family solidly supports both her philanthropic and her literary efforts. Her grandfather, who is a children’s book author in Sri Lanka, was the first person to recommend that Abigail and The Fish Tree be published.
Sonali’s mother, Jeewika Ranaweera, an IEEE Senior Member, and a principal hardware engineer on the Microprocessor Development Team at Oracle Corporation, encouraged her daughter by creating the illustrations for Abigail and The Fish Tree. Using the basic features and free clip art available in Microsoft PowerPoint, she designed the vibrant, multi-hued pictures that enliven each page of the e-book.
Finally, Senaka Ranaweera, a business analyst at Hewlett-Packard Company and Sonali’s father, helps her to manage the financial aspects of her philanthropy. In addition, his professional background has inspired his daughter to study Business, when she begins her university studies in September 2018.
“Majoring in Business will help me learn what I will need to someday become a real philanthropist,” she says. “With help, I’m already running my own nonprofit, but I want to take it much further.”
Just as her fictional heroine demonstrates, a healthy dose of imagination, combined with creativity and perseverance, should be the perfect ingredients to help ensure Sonali Ranaweera’s future success.
Abigail and The Fish Tree is available for $2.99 for IEEE members and $4.99 for non-members.
Helen Horwitz is an award-winning freelance writer living in Albuquerque, N.M. She was with IEEE from 1991 through 2011, the first nine as Staff Director, IEEE Corporate Communications.