Volleyball alum educates youth about voting, writes children’s book

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Gwyn Jones wrote a children’s book, titled “A Goat Named Vote. (Photo courtesy of Gwyn Jones.)

Voting has been promoted by many sports figures across different leagues, ranging from LeBron James in the NBA to Russell Wilson in the NFL. Student-athletes even encouraged the Marquette community to vote through their social media platforms.

Former Marquette volleyball middle blocker Gwyn Jones is looking beyond this election to get people, especially children, excited about voting. Along with illustrator Rachel Nguyen, Jones wrote a children’s book called “A Goat Named Vote” published in September 2020.

“I said to my classmates, ‘what if I did a book using life lessons from the farm, using farm animals to portray these bigger picture messages?” Jones said.

The title of the book first came to Jones’ mind at 2 a.m. on a Wednesday night when she was writing a paper for a corporate social responsibility class about kids who came together at a university, like Marquette, where a presidential debate was being held. There was an issue on campus regarding a labor dispute and the students started peacefully protesting while all of the primary candidates boycotted the debate.

“That got me thinking, ‘wow, I can do that,'” Jones said. “It got me thinking about collective voices and how that’d be an important message for kids to learn that they can make change. Change was just made right here and got national news for it. … I just scribbled this down and then I’m like ‘what rhymes with goat?’ and then I was like ‘oh that’s perfect, vote.'”

Jones used the story she had read as the basis of her own children’s book. According to the Butler Books website, “Vote is a goat with the same insecurities and self-doubts that humans have. Confronted with an injury that limits his physical activity and with obstacles to getting the care he needs to fix it, Vote has to find his new path forward. Can he somehow get the care he needs? Can one goat, with the help of a farmer and other goats in the herd, make a difference and be an agent of change?”

The idea came to fruition when Jones was in a digital creative leadership class taught by professor in residence and strategic communication Linda Menck during the spring 2020 semester.

“It really put me outside of my comfort zone and made me think in ways that I hadn’t before,” Jones said. “I knew that I had creativity inside of me and I just feel like I didn’t have the hours in the day to sit down and be creative.”

The final project for the class was to write something creative. Since Jones — who was raised on a tiny farm in Greenville, Indiana — had already written about her farm in the class before and knew Menck loved it, she posted on her class discussion board the children’s book as one of her three options for her final project.

“A lot of my classmates responded and said ‘you need to do the children’s book,'” Jones said. “I started writing it and I showed it to some of my teammates on the volleyball team and they just fell in love with it.”

After she turned in her project, everyone she showed it to, including Menck, said she needed to publish it. Prior to Jones contacting the publisher, she had many family friends look it over and make edits.

“There are things you don’t think about (when) writing a book, like vowel sounds and all of that,” Jones said.

When Jones’ parents asked her what she wanted for her 22nd birthday at the end of June, she said she didn’t want anything.

“They said, ‘well, what about if we took your book to the publisher and we helped you get it published,'” Jones said.

That’s exactly what they did. Jones brought the book to Carol Butler, president and publisher of Butler Books, located in Louisville, Kentucky. The book was finished by September, after only starting production in July.

“We don’t go through an agent or anything — it’s a lot of direct marketing,” Jones said. “She was very instrumental in it and would send stuff back to me and say, ‘what do you think of this?’ … She sent us like five final drafts and I’m like ‘just go for it. I trust you’ and it turned out amazing.”

Jones said her book has been received well by her former coaches and teammates at Marquette. Even athletic director Bill Scholl congratulated her.

“They all bought a copy and will send me videos of them reading it to their kids, which has been so awesome,” Jones said.

Head volleyball coach Ryan Theis contacted Jones about the book and shared his excitement for it. He also read the book with his eight-year-old son.

“Right when I found out about it I reached out to her (Jones), bought some copies, and I was thrilled for her. She’s an incredible person, her family is spectacular,” Theis said. “I’ve coached 20 years and I’ve never coached an author, so now I have.”

The first people Jones ever read the book to were four of her teammates on a weekend trip to St. Louis.

“They were the ones that really gave me the confidence to move forward with it,” Jones said. “So I sent those four a copy. A lot of people, just the Marquette community, have been buying it and sending me pictures of it, which has been so cool.”

For Jones, politics has been a topic she has always been interested in. When she was young, she knew that voting was the right thing to do. However, she was not as invested until she joined her high school’s constitutional government team. On the team, she traveled to tournaments to debate about the Constitution and use it to discuss current events and the Supreme Court cases.

“That’s when I really got into voting,” Jones said. “Just seeing different viewpoints across America. I’ve been so lucky — I grew up in southern Indiana by Louisville, Kentucky and then I went to Auburn, Alabama, which is a very red state. … You get a lot of different viewpoints in a college town that’s in a red state. Then (I) moved up north and was in Milwaukee.”

Jones said exposing herself to various viewpoints helped her learn more about voting. Especially with the 2020 presidential election, she was able to see how Milwaukee turning blue affected the whole state, which in turn contributed to President-elect Joe Biden’s victory. Jones was also signed up to be on the volunteer list at the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee, which was canceled due to the ongoing pandemic.

“I got to voting age and I would look around me and be like, ‘no, no, no, you need to vote,'” Jones said.

Theis said it’s a ‘great thing’ to get children in elementary and middle school talking about voting because those children are the country’s future leaders.

“I bet 30 years from now you could ask our future senators and future congressmen or women and said that they read ‘A Goat Named Vote,'” Theis said.

People can also purchase the book on Jones’s website for $18.95. As for when Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris were announced as the 46th president and first female vice president of color Nov. 7, Jones said it was inspiring.

“I was listening to a podcast the other day that was talking about this generation of kids that think that anything is possible, even after seeing these past four years,” Jones said. “Having Barack Obama in the White House and now having a minority woman going to the White House, it’s inspired so many kids.”

2020 has been a historical year. For Jones, voting is about making a moral decision as a human.

“To me this hasn’t been politics,” Jones said. “For me, it’s just about doing the right thing as people. (It’s) standing up for the rhetoric that we want our leaders to use in this nation and the way we want to be seen on a global scale and the rights we want for our neighbors. … I was just so excited to see people chose love over hate.”

Jackson Gross contributed to this report. 

This story was written by Zoe Comerford. She can be reached at isabel.comerforrd@marquette.edu or on Twitter @zoe_comerford.