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Children's author shares his love of language with kids

POSTED: May 31, 2008 5:00 a.m.
Scott Rogers/The Times

Author Mike Thaler answers questions Tuesday afternoon at Fair Street Elementary after reading a book to students in the school's media center. The popular children's author has written a series of books and also has been crowned America's Riddle King. Thaler also created the popular character Letterman for the 1970's show "The Electric Company."

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An impish creature with a pickle nose, elf ears and a bicycle horn perched on top of its head stared back at its delighted young audience members Tuesday morning. Sweeping his colorful markers in simple strokes across an easel, children’s author Mike Thaler brought to life the imaginations of a group of Fair Street Elementary School students.

"Your ideas come from your imagination. Each one of you has an imagination as good as mine, but you’ve gotta use it," Thaler told the youngsters.

Thaler began his career as a professional cartoonist, but soon turned to writing children’s stories. He created the animated character Letterman, voiced by Gene Wilder (known for his performance as the original Willy Wonka) for a popular 1970’s children’s show, "The Electric Company." In his 48-year career, he has written more than 180 children’s stories, including the popular Scholastic series "The Teacher from the Black Lagoon," and more than 45 riddle books, earning him the title of America’s Riddle King.

"Our kids have read so many of his books. They are just scary enough and goofy enough that they really appeal to (the kids)," said Andi Hamilton, organizer of Thaler’s visit.

Hamilton said that Thaler was in town for the International Reading Association’s Annual Conference in Atlanta, and made himself available to speak at schools.

Thaler has spent the past week in Gainesville visiting several schools, including Enota Elementary, Gainesville Elementary School, Gainesville Middle School, and Fair Street Elementary. He will visit Centennial Elementary School on Wednesday morning.

"He’s given us a lot of his time," Hamilton said. "He has really shown the kids steps to becoming a writer that they can go home and do, so that’s been really unique about him."

Thaler said that the formula for successful writing is just like anything else: practice makes perfect. "If you want to be baseball player, play baseball. If you want to be a pianist, play the piano. If you want to be a writer, write."

His decision to write children’s literature was an easy one. "I love words, I love language, I love using my imagination. And I like making people laugh," Thaler said.


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