I had the pleasure of taking my kids to see Henry Winkler and his children's book co-author Lin Oliver at Quail Ridge Books & Music in Raleigh last night.
Winkler, best known as the Fonz, and Oliver, who has an impressive career of her own as a TV producer and writer and children's book author, have collaborated on more than two dozen chapter books for grade schoolers. Four million copies have sold.
They include the Hank Zipzer and Here's Hank series, which both follow Hank Zipzer, a grade schooler with dyslexia. The latest in the Here's Hank series, "Fake Snakes and Weird Wizards," came out this week. The Hank Zipzer series is recommended for kids ages 9 to 12. Here's Hank is designed for ages 6 to 8.
Winkler started working on the series, he told last night's crowd, during a lull in his acting career. Somebody suggested he write a children's book about his own struggles as a child at school and at home. He said his parents, German immigrants, referred to him as a "dumb dog," using a German phrase, and called him lazy.
The headmaster at his school, Winkler said, asked him "Winkler, I want to know why you're not achieving?' I said, 'that makes two of us.'"
Winkler wouldn't find out for another couple of decades why he had such trouble reading. After his son was diagnosed with dyslexia, Winkler, at age 31, finally was able to answer his headmaster's question. Winkler also had dyslexia.
Winkler and Oliver's talk on Thursday was sprinkled with inspiration, humor and a clear love for what they do. With slides, they showed the crowd their writing process.
Winkler brings coffee to Oliver's house. Winkler talks. Oliver types. Oliver talks. They argue. She types. He plays with toys or tries to fit his foot into the wooden plank on Oliver's floor. It takes about three months to write a book.
Winkler told the kids in the crowd to, just like him, make "I will try," their mantra.
"For every young person in this room, I want you to know you have greatness," he said. "You are not defined by school."
"Keep your dream in the front of your brain and you will soar," he later said.
The Hank series have been popular with kids diagnosed with dyslexia. The font used in the book - Dyslexie - is even designed for kids who have trouble reading with extra space and a heavier baseline for the letters, among other features. But with four million copies and counting sold, it's been a hit with kids of all reading abilities.
Winkler and Oliver fielded some questions from the crowd before signing books last night. There were some about "Happy Days." There were a few hard-hitting ones like this zinger from my five-year-old to Winkler: "What is your favorite color?" (It's green).
And there were thoughtful ones, including the first question from a boy who asked what the authors keep in mind as they write their books.
"You," Winkler said. Kids, like him, who read their books.