This article first appeared in the Kankakee Valley Post-News,
February, 2003 and is reprinted here with the kind permission of
Melissa Widner, author and photographer. (Copyright) Melissa Widner, Kankakee Valley Post-News,, 2003.
Author Inspires Writers, Readers
leads the Kindergarten students at
Hebron Elementary School in a singing
of the poetry of his book, Old Black Fly.
Photo by MELISSA WIDNER
HEBRON -- Once a teacher, always a teacher
Last Friday, Aylesworth capped off a busy week with a stop at Hebron Elementary, a place which holds a special spot in the author's life.
"My grandparents went to school here 80 years ago and the high school here. That's where they met and fell in love."Chris Robbins, fourth grade language arts teacher, applied for Aylesworth to visit a year ago after the school received a Literacy Grant for $1,000 from Wal-Mart.
At the time, she knew him only from visits to other area schools and from his award-winning books. She had no idea he had ties to the town.
"You wonder, with a name like Aylesworth," she said.
Then the subject came up in conversation in one of the e-mails Robbins and Aylesworth sent back and forth.
"I had to tell her," Aylesworth said. "I said I hope it doesn't disqualify me."
On Thursday, Aylesworth spent the night at the family farm he owns near Hebron with his brother, Bill. The farm, recognized as a Hoosier Homestead since the days of his grandparents, has been in the family since 1840 -- through eight generations including the brothers' grandchildren.
"It's been a part of my life all of my life," Aylesworth said. "But I can't talk about the farm without talking about Bill. He particularly loves the farm; he has put a lot of himself in it."
The farm, the site of holiday get-togethers between the brothers, was the inspiration for several parts of Aylesworth's books, he said.
"Hanna's Hog was directly out of my childhood memories," he said. "In fact, she's based on a legendary figure in Hebron's history: Hanna Brody. She died when I was a child, but she lived in a little cabin and smoked a pipe. I remember she had a yard with no grass where the chickens were kept and she would sweep the yard with a broom."
Children are probably more familiar with Aylesworth's best seller: Old Black Fly. Typical of Aylesworth's musical style of writing, Old Black Fly. tells the buzzzy bad day of a fly who likes to land on things in alphabetical order.
On Friday, he sang the poem to an appreciative crowd of Kindergarten students at Hebron in his soft, hypnotic rhythm.
"I like to smash flies," confided one student shyly.
When talking to the 5th and 6th grade students, Aylesworth said children's love of gross things is part of why he wrote the book, which he said was inspired by a fly that came in his class one day and distracted all of his students.
"I needed to write about what kids like," he said. "I said to myself, 'They seem to like to look at ugly flies.'
"Lots of things in your life give you an idea. If you're going to be an author, you need to keep your mind open, even when you're upset. You never know when an idea will come to you."
The book, published in 1992, has continued to receive accolades from reviewers of children's literature.
Other books by Aylesworth include a retelling of the classic childhood song The Gingerbread Man, The Completed Hickory Dickory Dock, and 2001's The Burger and the Hot Dog, a book he said was inspired by a student's toy M&M man.
"He's a candy human," he said. "I wonder if he has any friends in the food world."
Aylesworth also encouraged the children, who will be taking part in the school's annual Young Authors program in the coming weeks, not to give up.
"I worked very hard for this," he said of his collection of books. "It goes without saying but it needs emphasizing in a school situation. It did not happen by magic.
"In your lives, for your dreams to come true, someday you'll tell someone you worked hard for it."
He can be reached by e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org
or by phone at: (312) 573-0644.