Exploring a new 'nation'

'Black Lagoon' writer visits Maryville schools

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By Suzy Smith
For Blount Today

What is the most powerful nation in the world? The imagi-nation.

Who knows better than children’s book author and riddle king, Mike Thaler, what can happen when the imagination runs wild.

Thaler’s imagination has produced more than 180 children’s books including 45 riddle books and 18 books from the wildly successful "Black Lagoon" picture book series.

Thaler’s imaginative journey has also sent him around the world doing author visit at churches and schools. On Monday, March 5, Thaler visited students at Fort Craig Elementary School. On Tuesday, March 6, he spent the day at Foothills Elementary.

"Kids are the greatest. I love to hear them laugh," said Thaler, who lives on a Christmas tree farm in Oregon.

Thaler must enjoy making children laugh also. He has been writing amusing children’s stories for 47 years. It was in 1989 that he put a spin on the 1954 thriller, "The Creature from the Black Lagoon." He substituted the word "creature" and replaced it with "teacher" and a best-selling series of picture books was born.

"Each book follows a basic theme, but they’re all different," Thaler said.

Illustrated by Jared Lee, the "Black Lagoon" books are a playful look at the world in which students live. In each book, older students warn the younger kids about the new teacher, or principal or cafeteria lady. Throughout the book, Thaler uses plays on words to describe the new person’s horrible reputation. In the end, things are never as bad as they seem.

"The familiarity is good for the kids," Thaler said.

Thaler is following up on the picture books’ successes with a series of chapter books for older readers based on the "Black Lagoon" characters. He also has created a series, Heaven and Mirth, humorous retellings of popular Bible stories for children.

According to Fort Craig Elementary School librarian, Betsy Cox, teachers prepared their students for Thaler’s visit by reading his books to their classes. First and second graders have been writing their own "Black Lagoon" books during their writing workshop classes.

Since some of Thaler’s titles include "The Art Teacher from the Black Lagoon," "The Music Teacher from the Black Lagoon" and "The Gym Teacher from the Black Lagoon," some other staff members are getting involved in preparations, too, according to Foothills Elementary School librarian, Audrey Berry.

"We hope to get specialists involved by reading stories to the students," Berry said.

Berry said Thaler was to spent the entire day with the students. The first session he was to speak with the kindergarten and transition class students. The first and second graders were to be involved in the second session. A luncheon was to be arranged so teachers could meet the author; and then the third and fourth graders were to spend the afternoon with Thaler.

The funds to pay for the author visit to Foothills Elementary came from the Family and Teachers’ Organization fundraisers.

At Fort Craig Elementary, the Booster’s Club uses funds from their two annual fundraisers, the walk-a-thon and the winter carnival, to pay for author visits.

In order to reduce the expense of author visits, for the last five years, Fort Craig Elementary and Foothills Elementary
have partnered together to share the travel expenses of the visiting author.

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