BOOK CUBBY: Children's Books by Houston Authors

Hurricane Helper for Families 
by Lorel Kane 

  "There's a monster under my bed."  "A monster is hiding in the closet."  "Close my door so the monsters don't come in."  Those are all common distresses for many youngsters before they go to sleep and parents can often allay those fears by assuring children that monsters don't really exist.  But what if those fears manifest themselves through objects or events that are real, when lightning or thunderstorms or even a hurricane becomes the monsters under the bed?

       That's what happened to a two year old Houston boy after Hurricane Ike pummeled the Texas Coast in 2008.  Lucky for him that his father is a writer.  Coert Voorhees says for a year following Hurricane Ike his son, Dayton, kept saying things like, "There's a storm in my room.  There's a storm in my closet.  There's a storm in my covers."  Voorhees said Dayton just replaced the word "monster" with "storm."

       "That was interesting to me that he kind of conflated the two," said Voorhees.  So, as the author of several novels in the Young Adult genre, Voorhees thought he would try writing a children's book with a theme about overcoming fears associated with severe weather.  He created a Wild West character with all the toughness and tools to fight the elements and called him Storm Wrangler.

         "I thought if I had someone to kind of calm him down, read about, some sort of mythical figure, that would have been great.  So, Storm Wrangler is a mythical, kind of Paul Bunyan type, Wild West figure who fights storms so that kids don't have to be afraid of them," Voorhees said.

         The character of Storm Wrangler arrives on the scene to teach a young boy, whose name also happens to be Dayton, how to brave the storms.  He has a lasso to rope the wild winds of tornadoes and hurricanes, a shield to protect against lightning, and, of course, the proper clothing to insulate against snow, sleet, hail and rain.

         And all of his storm fighting know-how is presented in rhyme.  Writing in verse serves as a lighter counterpoint to the more serious subject of storms.  "Here we have this terrible story of storms that are going to tear up the trees and the monsters coming in, but there's something about when you're reading it out loud, there's this lullaby kind of feel to it," Voorhees explained.

         The book is not just a fable, it's also a bit of a text book.  Voorhees has included a glossary of nearly two dozen weather terms.  So, as parents tell the story of the Storm Wrangler they can throw in a little meteorology lesson, too.

        While rhyming words tell the story, the illustrations turn the book into a work of art. Illustrator Mike Guillory had done a lot of work with Voorhees's publisher, Bright Sky Press, but he had never illustrated a children's book before.

        "He did lots of research on period clothing and weather and included marvelous details like Coert's son's name hidden in the blocks and his real ‘blanky' in the art," said Lucy Chambers, Editorial Director at Bright Sky Press.  The research paid off.  The pictures of the Storm Wrangler are big and bold and the storms become those terrifying monsters.

         When Storm Wrangler came out in 2011 Voorhees did a book signing in Topeka, Kansas, dressed as the Storm Wrangler.  That was right at the beginning of tornado season, and just as a storm was approaching. 
         "It was the second time in history that Kansas had put out a tornado warning for 24 hours in advance, which doesn't often happen.  So, I saw a lot of kids who were getting scared,"  Voorhees recounted.  No doubt, talking about the book helped many of those kids sleep through that stormy night.

         Voorhees says he wrote the book to entertain, but more importantly to empower children.  The Storm Wrangler has his special gear but he shows the frightened boy that everything he needs to wrangle a storm is right in his own bedroom. "For example, his lightning shield is maybe a pillow.  His jacket that protects him from the elements is maybe his blanket... so a child can hear a storm coming and essentially kind of feel protected because the Storm Wrangler is out there fighting the storm and the child is kind of like a mini Storm Wrangler."

         Voorhees geared the reading level of the book to third graders, but his most dedicated fans are between two and six years old.  "Those are the kids that I've heard from, parents I've heard from saying, ‘I read Storm Wrangler four times tonight,'"  Voorhees said.

         Of course, fan number one remains Dayton, who is now six years old.  He was four when Voorhees first wrote the book and read it to him when it was still just a Microsoft Word document.  "I told him I had written a book for him and he was very excited and he listened to it, then he grabbed the pages and went around showing everyone his book.  I said, ‘No, wait.  This is going to get a lot cooler because we're going to make pictures for it.'" 

         Now his book, pictures and all, is available to let all children know that they have a Storm Wrangler inside of them ready to brave whatever storms come their way.

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