After volunteering at his daughter’s school, Herschel Dixon was concerned the reading skills of some students were not up to grade level, so he decided to do something about it. Working with his close friend — author, media personality and literacy advocate Cyrus Webb — Dixon wrote his first children’s book, titled “A.J. and the Talent Show.”
His first story, self-published through Amazon CreateSpace, is garnering national attention and keeping him busy with appearances in schools and at events in Louisville and around the country. The story, Dixon believes, is an important one.
“It’s about a kid named A.J., and we’ve all been that kid at some point when we feel like we don’t fit in,” Dixon tells Insider. “A.J. turns to books. Books make him happy, and it’s where he feels he can fit in.”
The storyline also incorporates music, which Dixon says helps children with the learning process.
Originally from the Aurora/Naperville-area in Illinois, Dixon settled in Louisville several years ago with his wife Erin and two daughters, Peyton and Aubrey. After an invite from Webb, Dixon traveled to Mississippi to participate in a few literacy events. He was inspired by this visit to try writing a story for kids.
“When I sit down with Aubrey — reading to her and seeing how she gets into a book and that she also likes music — I wanted to write a book where I could tie music and literacy together and show how they can go hand in hand,” says Dixon.
At times, the writing process proved to be a challenge due to logistics, with Webb in Mississippi and Dixon in Louisville. Webb served as primary editor and illustrator.
When designing the book, the pair made a decision to leave A.J.’s ethnicity up to the kids.
“My kids are biracial, other people’s kids are a certain way,” Dixon explains. “At that point, we said, ‘Why don’t we leave A.J. blank and let kids make him what they want?’ Our job was to write the story, and kids can personalize it themselves. Every city I’ve been to, they all like that aspect.”
Dixon’s friendship with Webb helped foster his passion for literacy in youth. Webb spends much of his time promoting literacy through reading and events, as well as hosting a podcast — #ConversationsLIVE — where he discusses books and interviews celebrity guests. For Dixon, it was being a parent volunteer at his youngest daughter’s school that ultimately inspired him to promote childhood literacy and a love of reading.
“I’ve been volunteering more at Aubrey’s school. The kids aren’t reading as much as they need to,” Dixon says. “They’re locked into electronics, and the books come second. There’s a need for it, but we have to make sure we can help them find what they want to read. If it’s something they enjoy, they’re going to want to read.”
With today’s educational system being centered on the Common Core curriculum, Dixon wanted to add value to the educational experience of “A.J. and the Talent Show.” When he visits a school, he plans age-appropriate activities that reflect upon the ideas of the story. So far he has yet to meet a group that doesn’t love reading about A.J. and dancing to the music that’s part of the story.
“The kids love the book,” Dixon says. “Every time I go, they’re singing, they’re dancing. The teachers are the same way.”
The book is gaining traction following some national media attention.
“It’s starting to pick up,” he says. “The Chicago Tribune article has gotten more people to give it a shot.”
His hope is that more local schools, libraries and boostores will be interested in hosting readings.
Dedicated to his mission of getting more kids involved in reading and promoting a positive self-image in children, Dixon has started work on his next story — a book about A.J. and a bully. He’ll continue to add music to his stories. Finding what kids like and keeping them engaged is key to creating excitement and nurturing a love for reading.
“All kids might not want to read about farm animals,” he says, “but they might want to read about rap music in books.”