Lunch Box Lady teaches nutrition through storytelling

Christi Mitchell dressed as her alter ego the lunch box lady

Teaching with a smile

Laramie County Community College adjunct English teacher Christi Mitchell dressed as the Lunch Box Lady, a character she created in her children book, teaches LCCC Children's Discovery Center students about nutrition.

Photo by Josh Kimmel

Whether they had ponies, superheros or Eric Estrada on them, our lunch boxes defined who we were. Now, a Laramie County Community College teacher has injected that creativity into a character children can admire and learn hardy lessons: the Lunch Box Lady.

In 2010, Christi Mitchell, now an adjunct English teacher at LCCC, was asked by the Mississippi Alliance for Arts Education to write a book for its program. With the help of her sisters, Anita Menus and Annette Marsico, she decided she wanted to create a book that inspired and celebrated creativity, kindness and nutrition.

"I didn't want to force things," Mitchell said, "so instead of creating a class, I just wrote a book."

With that decided, Mitchell and her sister Annette began to brainstorm topic ideas, while her other sister Anita was in charge of illustrations.

With the primary story—a lunch box designer named Mable facing creative imprisonment from her boss, Ms. Cruncherton, always staying the same—it was in the creation of the characters that Mitchell seemed to have the most fun.

"My theater background really kicked in when writing the story," said Mitchell, who is also an accomplished actress. "It really allowed me to get into my characters, finding their voice, decision making, even their postures and how they act. I write to perform."

As for the illustration style, Mitchell's sister Anita first experimented with marker drawings and watercolor before landing on a design that has become famous thanks to a particular foul-mouthed cartoon: cardboard cutouts.

"One of the characters in the book, Mr. Munch, first came out looking like Conan O'Brien, but now looks more like Dr. Phil," Mitchell said laughing.

With the style in place, the story written and the book published with the help of Mitchell's husband, Josh, a Wyoming Tribune Eagle reporter who also works for West South Publishing, it was time to get it out to all the book-hungry children.

"Kids have loved the book so far," Mitchell said. "It's mainly because it's a quirky tale about a shy, creative girl who shows that it's important to be yourself and be nice to others. The whole experience has been really freeing."

Mitchell used the book and its message to teach, sometimes dressed as Mable herself, kids at schools the importance of being creative and a good healthy lunch.

"It allows kids to go crazy," Mitchell said. "It even makes you wanna cry, all in a good way, of course."

Mitchell has big plans for the book, including a statewide exhibition of the book that will include destinations such as Cheyenne, Casper, Cody and Boulder, Colo. The exhibitions will continue until May.

"Even as an adult, it's hard to be nice to be people who are mean to you. But it's important to find out why they are like that and see if you can do something to make it right. I think that's one aspect of the book that's very important," Mitchell said.