Tri Cities Harold 1/23/2004

Elizabeth Barrington believes Alexa is smarter than Harry Potter. That’s high praise about the main character in Patrick Carman’s first book from the third-grader at Sacajawea Elementary School in Richland. The Harry Potter series about a boy wizard has sold millions of copies worldwide.

Elizabeth, 8, declared Carman’s book, The Dark Hills Divide, to be more exciting than the Potter adventures.

“It’s not as long and better than Harry Potter. Your eyes are glued to the page more,” she said.

Carman, a Walla Walla author, spoke to Sacajawea students Thursday about his first book. Today, he’s signing books at 6 p.m. at Barnes & Noble Booksellers. He also visited Richland’s Jason Lee Elementary School on Thursday and planned to visit Jefferson Elementary School in Richland today.

Carman’s 200-page fantasy is the first in a trilogy about Alexa, a 12-year-old girl who grew up inside a walled city. The 40-foot-tall, 3-foot-wide stone walls protect the townspeople from “enchanted dangers” outside.

But the story’s heroine isn’t satisfied with her safe haven. She wants to see what’s on outside the walls.

And so begins her adventure in the magical Land of Elyon where animals can talk and stones tell the future.

“She’s an interesting character,” said Alicia Faggioli, 9, of Alexa. “She’s pretty curious about everything.”

Ezra Dulaney, 9, said he was on page 153 of the book as he stood in line to get Carman’s autograph. “It’s a different world, and that’s fun,” he said.

The girls, Sierra and Reece, now in third and first grades at Prospect Point Elementary in Walla Walla, loved their dad’s first book and are clamoring to read the second, Behind the Valley of Thorns, due out at Christmas. But their father won’t let them.

“They’ve got such big mouths. They’d tell the other kids what happened,” said Carman, who is currently working on the third book in the series, The Tenth City.

Carman has visited Walla Walla’s six elementary schools to talk about the book and writing with students as part of his marketing campaign. The result has been successful sales at the Book and Game Co. in downtown Walla Walla.

“Over Christmas we couldn’t keep them in stock, and when they first came out we couldn’t keep them in stock,” said store manager Joyce Bruns.

Since September, the store has sold 288 copies of Carman’s book, which is published by Walla Walla-based Amped Media. The store has four copies left on the shelves and more on order. Six were sold Wednesday. By comparison, the fifth Harry Potter book, Return of the Phoenix, went on sale in May last year and 458 copies have been sold.

“With Pat Carman’s book, the sales have been consistent. Harry Potter, it was first two months and then sales dipped drastically. Pat Carman keeps the interest going and does things with the schools so the sales have been very consistent,” Bruns said.

Many of the Sacajawea students bought the book and were reading it in their classes to prepare for Carman’s visit.

On Thursday, Carman tossed three mini basketballs to the kids and encouraged them to toss them back into a small hoop he carried. He said the fundamentals of basketball — dribbling, passing, shooting — are important to play a good game of basketball. Mastering the basics of writing is important for the same reason, he told the Sacajawea kids.

“If you can’t do those things well, you can’t write very well,” he said.

It’s been five years since an author has visited the Richland school. “We haven’t had an author in a long time,” said third-grade teacher Glenda Webber. It’s rare for kids get to meet them, and students were excited about his visit because they were enjoying the book, she said.

Jason Trader, 9, a third-grader was one of them. “He uses a lot of elaborate detail and you can picture the story in your mind,” he said.

Steven Rusk, 10, a fourth-grader said he’d never met an author before.

“If I had a mood ring it would be purple,” he said. “Purple means excited.”

Patrick Carman