Teaching children about sun safety and skin cancer is a tough job.

How do you tell them that playing outside in the sun, without precautions, can be harmful, or that some moles can signal a dangerous disease?

To meet this challenge, a Baton Rouge high school student created Dottie the Dalmatian, the star of an illustrated children's book that teaches the ABCs of skin care.

In "Dottie's Sun Survival Guide," the canine begins with the basics at letter A: "Anyone can get skin cancer, no matter age or skin color," and ends with zinc, the mineral found in some sunblock. 

"This was awesome because it was tailored to exactly what we wanted to teach kids," said Sara Lomax Gray, co-founder of the Lauren Savoy Olinde Foundation, which is dedicated to skin cancer education. "The message is spot on, especially for this time of year." 

Last spring, Episcopal High School student Arden Koschel wrote the book with Gray as her editor. Koschel had been volunteering with the foundation and had already self-published a children's book, "H is For Hamlet," for her junior English class. 

So when Gray asked her to create a computer presentation meant for elementary school students, Koschel suggested, "Let's do a book." It was tougher than either thought it would be. 

They wrote and rewrote over a few months, then found an illustrator, Jessica Le, a digital art student at LSU. She designed Dottie as a playful pup who wears sunglasses and hats. For letter D she became Dr. Dottie, the dermatologist.

The ABCs introduce important ideas to kids. U, for example, is for ultraviolet rays, which come in two types — UVA and UVB. Both are harmful, but a broad-spectrum sunscreen can block them, the book says. J stands for the jagged edges of a spot on the skin. "A round spot is a healthy spot," Koschel wrote.

"Although it is an alphabet book, it goes into more detail, too, about UV rays and bigger topics that I can expand on," Gray said.

"Dottie's Sun Survival Guide" teaches youngsters to play in the shade between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the sun's rays are the most intense. The letter R teaches them to reapply sunscreen every two hours — or more often if you're swimming or sweating. 

While some of the lessons may prove too complex for younger readers, Koschel said she thinks most children will get the most important message: Wear sunscreen.

"It's a lot of information for a child to process, but using the dog is helpful," she said. "If they don't remember specifics about the book, at least they will remember the dog."

The letter L is a tribute to Lauren Savoy Olinde, whose death in 2012 at age 27 from melanoma shocked her friends and family and inspired the foundation. She was careful in the sun, but doctors discovered a cancerous mole on her head. 

Sponsors, including several dermatology offices and families that support the Lauren Savoy Olinde Foundation, helped pay for the book to be published. Part of their donation ensured that Gray and Koschel would appear at schools to teach about skin care. They read the book and lead children in mole identification.

"An unhealthy mole is one that is not a round spot, not a perfect circle, or different borders, things like that," Gray said. "They get to look at their own skin and participate in the project."

Hardcover copies of "Dottie's Sun Survival Guide" are available for $20 at the Lauren Savoy Olinde Foundation website at LSOFoundation.org.


Hat Run and skin cancer screening

A 5K run and 1-mile walk to benefit the Lauren Savoy Olinde Foundation. Participants are encouraged to wear fun hats. Free skin cancer screenings also will be available, and there will be music and entertainment.

WHEN: 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. Saturday, April 29

WHERE: Pennington Biomedical Research Center, 6400 Perkins Road, Baton Rouge

REGISTRATION: $30 ($35 after April 26), $15 for youth. LSOFounation.org 

Follow Kyle Peveto on Twitter, @kylepeveto.