Children's author Jerry Pallotta has written more than 80 books – including alphabet stories about birds, butterflies, boats and most recently, bugs (icky) and reptiles (yucky).
Beetles, too, every conceivable beetle.
“Here's the dung beetle. He eats poop,” Pallotta said to a rush of delighted laughter from Aiken Elementary School fourth- and fifth-graders Thursday.
Nearly 30 years ago, Pallotta was reading stories to his own children. He dabbled at writing his own and soon abandoned his work in insurance. With the help of excellent illustrators for his books, Pallotta estimates he has made 18,000 visits to schools.
Of course, his humor engages children in a way that teaches. Fifteen years ago he wrote “A Giraffe Did One.” As Pallotta says on his website, “Let's see, is it about a sneeze, a burp, a cough or a hiccup?”
The children never find out, but along the way, they view illustrations of frogs, elephants, pigs, mice, turtles, snakes, bears, sharks and many more. All of them “did one” and yes, there's a tree and no, it didn't do one, because, well, it's a tree.
Becky Koelker, the Aiken Elementary School principal, has been a fan of Pallotta for more than 20 years. She especially values his dissection of his own work.
He showed the children a page from a book about the old barnstorming planes called “Jenny's.” The pilots would make a living doing wild stunts, he wrote, “such as walking on the wing, flying at the crowd or even flying upside down.” But the children agreed with Pallotta, who long ago decided “diving” at the crowd sounded much better. So did “even flying loop-de-loop” – a far more vivid description.
“He doesn't just say that he revises and edits,” Koelker. “He shows the children what he does from the ground up and how necessary it is, in a fun and entertaining way.”
When she met Pallotta years ago, he said then he wanted to write books to teach children how to have a discussion. Debates should be based on facts, not opinions, and that approach impressed Koelker. When kids learn about writing, the distinction between facts and opinions is a useful component of teaching it.
Dr. Rebecca Harper, a former Aiken Middle School teacher and now a Georgia Regents University professor, appreciates Pallotta's varying series of books he presented Thursday. The “Who Would Win” series includes a Komodo dragon versus a king cobra. Harper's daughter Amelia is a first-grader in Kristen Smith's class at Aiken Elementary School. The kids invented their own “who would win” book – chickens versus tigers. Of course, that effort last fall emerged a few weeks before the Carolina-Clemson game. It was fun for the kids, since Smith is a Clemson fan and Harper cheers for the University of South Carolina.
“Things have changed so dramatically in education,” Harper said. “I tell my students at the university that if we expect students can't do something, they won't. If they are told they can do research and write, they will.”