It started with a school assignment. English teacher Bob Martin asked his Burbank High School students to create a movie poster based on a book they were reading in class. And the submission of then-junior Alex Salinas caught his eye.
"It was just incredible work," Martin said. "I joked with him, 'You are such a great artist, you should do my book.'"
Shortly thereafter, Martin extended a more formal invitation, asking Salinas to do the illustrations for a children's book he had in progress titled "James' Night of Terror."
"I got so excited," said Salinas, who graduated from Burbank High School in June. "When is it that a 17-year-old gets to illustrate a book?"
The collaboration turned into meetings full of writing, re-writing, drawing and re-drawing of the characters. Somewhere along the way, long-time Burbank Unified English teacher Carolyn Grogan joined in to help copy edit. And then there was the task of finding a publisher.
Two years later, the book is available on the Barnes and Noble website, and is scheduled to be on the store's shelves in the coming weeks. On Tuesday, Martin conducted a book signing at the book fair at John Muir Middle School, where he now teaches.
"James' Night of Terror" is the story of 16-year-old James hired to babysit. With his charge asleep in bed, he settles on the couch for a night of TV when he sees a news flash about a serial killer running loose in his sleepy town. James lets his imagination run wild and goes about trying to safeguard himself from the threat.
The book is a first for Martin, whose professional background includes a 10-year stint with the U.S. Air Force. While stationed in England with the military, he worked as a volunteer Scoutmaster. He began inventing ghost stories to entertain Scouts during campfires.
It wasn't until years later that, with the encouragement of his wife, Martin would pursue a career in education and begin to write down the stories he had previously composed in his head. He is already working on a second project, he said.
Martin saw in Salinas talent and a strong work ethic, and a great teachable moment, Grogan said.
"Bob is a very talented teacher," Grogan said. "Probably one of the best in my entire career. He knows his stuff, but he knows kids, too. So to let this young man have this opportunity is incredible."
The experience has created additional opportunities for Salinas. He was recently able to share his portfolio with artists from Walt Disney Co., and hopes to enroll in the art program at College of the Canyons next semester.
"I know that art is my passion, and I know that is where my career is going to drive toward," he said.
High school students need to see that they don't have to be a professional football player or a math wizard in order to pursue professional success, and Salinas is an example of that, Martin said.
"We continually hear about teenagers and everything they do wrong," Martin said. "Here is a young man at 16 who took on a project. This is all raw talent. He took it on and worked really hard. His illustrations are amazing."