Greenfield - Tedd Arnold, author and illustrator of the fabulously popular Fly Guy children's book series, flew all the way from his New York State home to extend his thanks to Glenwood Elementary School students.
Two years ago, a class of Glenwood first-graders gave him the idea for his latest book that came out only a month ago.
The book, "Fly Guy Presents: The White House," is the latest in the Fly Guy series following the adventures of a boy and his pet fly, Fly Guy. The boy and fly became inseparable ever since the boy realized that Fly Guy can say his name - Buzzzz.
Sometimes Buzz and Fly Guy star in their own stories and sometimes, as in the White House book, they present fun facts of nonfiction. But whether the book is nonfiction or fiction, the stories are sprinkled with ingenuity and a wit that can even tickle parents.
Arnold has done school visits for years, but decided a year and a half ago to stay home instead. However, he made an exception for the Glenwood kids, because he wanted to meet those first-graders face to face. The youngsters are now in third grade.
Exception for Glenwood
"I've done it most of my career to make books come alive," and to encourage reading, Arnold said Friday between talks to classes of Glenwood students in the school library. Although he doesn't do school visits anymore, "I had to make one more, just for Glenwood for the idea."
He has received many book suggestions over the years, from classes schoolchildren and even from children who write to him at his home in Elmira, about five hours from New York City. However, this is only the second time that a suggestion turned into a book, he said. The first time was probably in the mid-1990s and the name of that book is "Five Ugly Monsters." It came out long before Fly Guy was a glint in the eye of the author.
The magic of the then Glenwood first-graders' book idea was timing. Only three weeks before their letter arrived, Arnold's publisher Scholastic Reader had nixed his idea of doing a book about the presidential election process. Even though it would have been timely with the election coming up, the climate is too political, he was told.
Enter the Glenwood first-graders. They packed their letter suggesting a book about the White House with lots of White House facts and even illustrated it with photos that included the White House swimming pool, vegetable garden and bowling alley.
The kids were learning about the White House, they loved the Fly Guy nonfiction books, and some commented that they hoped Tedd Arnold would write a book on it some day, their teacher Beth Kaminsky said.
"I remember saying. 'Why don't we ask him?'"
Class in action
"So we put together a creative, persuasive letter in which we used all that we learned about author's craft, nonfiction text features and the White House," she said.
Arnold realized this was a twist on the book he wanted to do, anyway and it wasn't political.
"The White House was a different story," he said. So, he rushed back to his publisher.
"They immediately saw the difference and got it on the fast track," Arnold said.
Back in Greenfield, the kids were ecstatic when they received word that their book idea would really happen. Kaminsky said, "It was so exciting for the kids to see that even as a first grader their ideas and opinions matter, and that they have a voice worth listening to."
Amazingly, Arnold kept close to the youngsters' book suggestions, although adding a lot more, she said.
Not only were the kids listened to, they were applauded. Arnold names all the former first-graders in the book's dedication.
Loud applause followed that announcement.
During his talks to three shifts of students, Arnold delighted the youngsters and adults with his presentations, telling them that the idea for their beloved Fly Guy came from a fly buzzing around inside the family car.
He and his wife were on a long trip and Arnold was doodling, as usual.
Fly in car
"I started drawing the fly and writing down stuff about flies," he said. Suddenly, he was brainstorming, and in his favorite way, riding in the car. He wrote down everything he could think of about flies, even remembering how when he was little, he and his friends put all kinds of flies in jars with holes punched in the top to keep as pets.
The idea of a pet fly clicked when Arnold realized that a fly can say a boy's name -- Buzz.
Fly Guy's trademark jerky form came from having to draw him while bouncing in the car, Arnold said.
Arnold has 89 books to his credit, including 27 Fly Guy volumes.
The author/illustrator topped off all his programs with the same advice to his enthralled audience: "If you keep drawing, you'll get better. If you keep writing you'll get better. If you keep reading, you'll get better at everything."