‘Colors of Zaki’


Believing in yourself is the secret to success, says young Los Lunas author Shalen “Sha” Holt.

He hopes to inspire young people with his first book, “Colors of Zaki,” a story for readers under age 7.

Deborah Fox-News-Bulletin photo: Los Lunas High School graduate Shalen “Sha” Holt has published his first book, ‘Colors of Zaki,’ which he wrote in high school to inspire young children to believe in themselves.

Holt graduated from Los Lunas High School in 2010 with the “Colors of Zaki” ready for publication. He finally got it published in April.

It took a little time to get the book published because Holt did a lot of research on publishing options. He chose not to self-publish, but invest $2,000, so he could get the marketing help a publishing house could provide, he said.

It was published by RoseDog Books in Pennsylvania.

“Amazon actually sold out of their stock, and had to re-order,” Holt said. “So that was really awesome to hear. I’m really excited.”

Holt is a living example of his philosophy.

“Sha has always been a very creative person,” said his mother, Terri Holt, a teacher at Valencia Elementary School. “And he has always had a unique outlook on life.”

Holt not only wrote “Colors of Zaki,” he also illustrated the book, first with pencil sketches, then coloring the drawings with Sharpie markers.

He also put the black-and-white illustrations on his computer.

“I scanned them and colorized them through the Photoshop computer program,” Holt said.

The seeds of the book were planted when Holt’s high school art teacher, Anna Otero, gave the class a drawing assignment, coupled with a creative writing exercise.

The students had to write a story to accompany their pictures. Holt drew a bunch of zebras in different colors.

“Well, I wrote a story, and I looked at the story and thought it had a lot of potential,” he said. “So I went in and I revised it, and revised it until I thought I had something good enough to publish.”

Holt’s mother said he was influenced quite a bit by his language arts teacher, Leith Border.

“In addition to that, he was always really good about letting me help him with editing and some of the revision,” she said.

After fine-tuning the story, Holt drew specific illustrations to match it.

The “Colors of Zaki” is a story about a young zebra who sees a rainbow after a rainstorm, and admires the rainbow for its colors. Zaki is a zebra, which is black and white, but he wants to be as colorful as a rainbow.

So he begins a journey in search of someone who can help him change his colors.

He visits a medicine man who can cure the worst sickness, but does not have any medicine to change Zaki’s color. Then he goes to the market and asks a shopkeeper if he could sell him something to make him change, but the shopkeeper has no such product.

Zaki seeks out the king to see if he can make Zaki change, but the king says even with all his power he cannot make Zaki change.

Finally, the young zebra visits a wise man. Surely with his infinite wisdom he would know how to help him change, Zaki says.

The wise man tells him, “Why young colt, nobody can make you change but you. You have the power to change anything you don’t like about yourself. You can become anything you want, as long as you believe in yourself.”

That night Zaki dreamed he could change color, and when he woke up he believed he could, and so he could. He was able to change his color to every color of the rainbow.

“The main message of the story is to encourage kids to believe in themselves and to always pursue their dreams no matter what — never to give up despite any setbacks they may encounter,” Holt said. “Each time you have a setback, it’s only a learning experience.”

Holt believes there is no such thing as failure.

“The only failure is if you give up,” he said.

The story has meaning on many different levels.

“It’s very much open to interpretation and how much meaning you can get from it, which I think is great,” said Holt.

He is currently a full-time college student, majoring in graphic design with a minor in advertising and marketing, at the Southwest University of Visual Arts in Albuquerque.

His schedule often includes days starting at 9 a.m. that continue until 9 p.m. He also works part-time at the Graphic Arts Station in Los Lunas.

“Fine art is my hobby,” said Holt. “It’s something I really enjoy doing on the side. For the main part, I’m really a graphic designer. I feel more confident in the job opportunities as a graphic designer and marketer than fine artist.”

On the side, he is working on marketing a board game he created for children 8 years old and older.

“It’s really simple,” Holt said. “It’s about this little duck and you have to get the duck to the duck pond. It’s an entertainment type of game. It allows you to draw on the game, drawing obstacles for your opponents. You work your way around the board and you have to navigate through these traps that your opponents set for you. It’s a lot of fun.”

The idea for the game also came from a class assignment.

“It was a group project and I was the art director,” he said. “We produced something that I think is a lot of fun and has a lot of potential.”

He’s looking for a distributor, but said it’s a little more costly to manufacture a board game.

His parents, Scott and Terri Holt, have been very supportive, especially while he researched how to get his book published, he said.

“My mom really helped,” he said. “She really kept pushing me and asking me about it. A lot of it was on my own, but she was the main supporter and backbone.”

“Teachers and parents should do as much as they possibly can to support kids in whatever their dreams are,” said Terri, a teacher of 20 years.

Holt likes to imagine that he can make a difference in the world in a positive and uplifting way, he said.

“Something greater than myself — to make a difference in our social morale,” said Holt.

-- Email the author at dfox@news-bulletin.com.