By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — Move over Michael Jordan. Kobe Bryant? You’ve got nothing on Raina Dowler.
The two NBA stars needed a couple of decades to grow into three-time champions. Raina has already done it, and she’s just 8 years old.
For the third year in a row, Raina’s artwork has won the Price Chopper “Bag Your Favorite Book” contest. This year, she won the competition among Kansas City area second graders, having previously won it among kindergartners and first graders.
And each year, Raina has won $500 for the library at her school, St. Charles Borromeo in Kansas City’s Clay County suburbs.
Like most humble champions, Raina spreads the credit to her parents for her artistic talent.
“My mom is a drawing artist and my dad is a singing artist,” she said.
Her mother is Diane Dowler, a professional graphic artist and Web designer. Her father is Darren Dowler, who is the lead singer for the 1960s revival rock band, Paul Revere & The Raiders.
And yes, to those old enough to remember such hits as “Kicks,” “Hungry,” and “Indian Reservation.” THAT Paul Revere & The Raiders.
In fact, as excited as she was about winning the Price Chopper contest that had more than 8,000 entries across nine elementary grade levels from kindergarten through eighth grade, she was even more excited about joining her dad, the band, and such 1960s acts as Mitch Ryder, Chubby Checker, and Gary Lewis and the Playboys on an upcoming, weeklong “Where the Action Is” Carribean cruise.
The Price Chopper contest challenges elementary school students to design a cover for their favorite book. This year, Raina chose “The Little Mermaid,” a children’s book by Sheryl Kahn based on the Disney animated film.
Raina drew Ariel, the mermaid, on the front cover, and Sebastian, the crab, on the back cover. And her hand-drawn, free-form depictions weren’t that far off the work of the original Disney animators.
It wasn’t easy, Raina said. But it was fun.
“Drawing and singing are my favorite stuff to do,” she said.
Still she was surprised at winning the contest three years in a row. The announcement was made at a Jan. 11 all-school assembly, with Price Chopper supermarket officials in attendance, and was a surprise to her. She didn’t even think she could win against competition in her own classroom, let alone among second graders from throughout the metropolitan area.
“I thought I was going to be second or fourth,” she said.
Price Chopper spokeswoman Jody Hanson said the contest is designed to encourage children not only to express themselves through art, but to read.
“Literacy and books are important,” Hanson said.
She didn’t have to convince Mary Omecene, St. Charles Borromeo’s principal.
Even in an age of iPhones, iPads, iTouches and iPods, there is still something special about a book, she said.
“We are really big on books, being able to hold that book in your hands and read it,” Omecene said.
But like every school, especially Catholic schools, money to keep even a well-stocked school library up-to-date is scarce.
“We don’t have a budget for our library,” said Omecene. “To buy a good, new hardback book, you’re paying $20. $15 minimum.”
The money that Raina has won for the St. Charles library — $1,500 total (and counting?) — is heaven-sent, her principal said, and boosts whatever money the library gets through book fair fundraisers.
Raina said she is happy to win it for a school she loves.
“I like how we go to church and how we pray,” Raina said. “And I have a lot of good friends.”
Part of her prize is also a classroom party, catered by Price Chopper, for all of those good friends.