Author visits Howard-Ellis Elementary students

Published 7:27 am Tuesday, March 26, 2019

NILES — For National Reading Month, the Howard-Ellis Parent Teacher Organization wanted an author to visit the school to speak about reading with the students at Howard-Ellis. However, when Michigan author Johnathan Rand answered the call, organizers got more they imagined.

“When I first met him, I laughed because he had the glasses with eyeballs,” said PTO President Cindy Coleman. “So, I greeted him with a handshake and chuckle.”

On March 21, Rand visited students at Howard-Ellis Elementary School. He hosted two sessions: one with kindergarteners and one with first through fifth graders. Rand is known for writing more than 100 children’s books with more than 6 million copies in print. His books include elements of horror, suspense, and humor. He has authored the book series “American Chillers,” “Michigan Chillers,” “Freddie Fernortner” and “Dollar $tore Danny.”

In addition to a prolific writing history, Rand owns a book store called Chillermania in Indian River, Michigan. He also runs Audiocraft Publishing, an independent book publisher.

Though he was asked to speak about reading at the event, Rand talked about more than just the topic at hand.

He told students reading is not a thing you do, but a place where you go and that his early love for writing helped him get to this point in his life.

“When I’m speaking throughout my program, I try to show them how, throughout my career in particular, how reading and writing helped me get that job at the radio station,” Rand said. “I had no idea I was going to grow up to write books and do this, but I got this job at the radio station. I bring it around to show the kids that if you can read well and you can write well, then you can do anything.”

The idea to invite Rand came from Howard-Ellis Librarian Lamanda Hilty. She heard about him from her daughter who saw him speak at Howard-Ellis a few years ago, she said.

This past summer, Hilty and her family met Rand at Chillermania. He gave them posters and discounts. His generosity prompted her to propose bringing Rand back to Howard-Ellis in March.

“All the kids love his books,” Hilty said. “I can’t keep them on the shelves. … As soon as I put up the posters, they were asking questions. ‘When’s he coming? When’s he coming?’ They were really looking forward to it.”

Before Hilty suggested the idea, Coleman had never heard of Rand. She did some research on him before his visit and realized he would be perfect, she said.

The process to book Rand for the event was easy for Coleman, she said. However, he wanted to meet with kindergarten students separate from the rest of the students. The challenge was finding a location for his 15-minute meet-and-greet event with 200 kindergarten students.

“He originally mentioned maybe in the library . . . but there’s no way 200 kindergarteners would have fit,” Coleman said.

She ended up putting the kindergarten meet-and-greet in the gym. They sat crisscrossed on the floor while Rand spoke seated on an office wheelie chair. Students listened intently, including four students in the front row who moved closer to Rand.

The rest of the students listened to Rand speak in the Café for over an hour. Coleman said the students seemed squirrely at times but responded well to Rand.

“I liked how he was so into books,” said Lena Coulston, a Howard-Ellis student. “When he said once you open a book . . . you go in the book where you’re going to.”

Not only did students and teachers say they liked his lessons on reading, but they also laughed. In both talks, Rand showed the audience how to do the “spooky laugh.”

The exercise involved the audience to wiggle their fingers, raise their eyebrows, and cackle. Rand started doing the spooky laugh years ago to help him break the ice. He said the activity also gets everyone involved.

“It really worked, and kids really seemed to like it,” Rand said. “I brought four or five kids up, and I have some fun with them. … They get to do this silly, goofy, spooky laugh.”

Coleman said she was pleased with Rand’s message to kids and wanted to bring him back to the school in the future. She added that both adults and children learned from Rand’s message Thursday.

“I’m not a reader,” Coleman said. “I’d rather listen to a book versus reading a book, but I loved how he said ‘it’s not what you read, it’s where you go.’”