Union Bulletin article about Elliot's Park and Atherton II - 2008

May 15, 2008 Slice of home taken hither and yon by local authorPatrick Carman is promoting two new books, one of which is inspired by Pioneer Park and its squirrels. By VICKI HILLHOUSE of the Walla Walla Union-BulletinA solo drive from San Francisco to Berkeley. Not far off the freeway. Surrounded by the hum of traffic. In search of a quick bite to eat before an appearance at a comic book store, then a Barnes & Noble.New York Times best-selling author Patrick Carman has accepted unfamiliar settings such as the California scene he visited more than a week ago as an aspect of touring. But over the last three weeks — from Seattle to Cincinnati, Chicago to Portland — Carman has not only taken a piece of home with him, he’s introduced Walla Walla to young readers through a new series of books.”Elliot’s Park: Saving Mr. Nibbles” is the first of six stories, published by Scholastic, and inspired by Walla Walla’s own Pioneer Park and its resident squirrels. Described as the “wild and wacky adventures of a curious young squirrel named Elliot and the friends who help him solve really big problems,” the books are intended for readers between first and fourth grades.Coincidentally, Carman’s second installment in his “Atherton” series, “Rivers of Fire,” has also been released for his middle-school audience. Atherton, published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, is a science fiction fantasy series, which Carman has been promoting alongside “Elliot’s Park.”What that means for the businessman-turned-author is that he spends even more time in a setting for which he is perhaps most familiar: schools.Carman, who got his start as a self-published author, developed a devoted fan base touring area elementary schools. That’s how he introduced his first youth fantasy fiction book “The Dark Hills Divide” to youngsters. As more books flew off the shelves, the attention caught the eye of Scholastic more than three years ago. With two projects needing promotion, Carman has been busier than ever.”There are a lot of joint events,” Carman explained. “What’s becoming more typical is that I talk to the younger kids for a while, then take a 20-minute break, and talk to the older kids.”He figures he’s visited more than 520 schools, and is cycling back to some of those that were part of his initial tour with the Land of Elyon series.The work continues his mission to promote literacy. “To get (kids) excited about taking reading seriously, it’s a great calling,” said the father of two.Carman has a number of other projects in the works, including a ghost story he plans to release in January. But for local kids, he’s most excited about a book that shows them a piece of their own community. A map in the front of the book, created by local artist Squire Broel, looks just like the park, including the gazebo, two ponds, historic cannon, rolling hill and playground. The second in the series — “Elliot’s Park: Haunted Hike” — is scheduled for release this summer.The idea for the stories literally came from a walk in the park. On a stroll more than a year ago with one of his daughters, a pair of squirrels darted past, racing up a tree before stopping to start down at the bipeds. As the tale goes, Reece, then 9, suggested her father write a story about the park with the squirrels as the characters.Then and there the father-daughter-duo came up with some of the characters, including names and outfits. Ever since, Reece Carman continues to be the first to see the outlines, first drafts and polished submissions. Elliot, the main squirrel, is smart but not very adventurous, Carman said. Each book presents a problem and a solution. There’s always a lesson. Additionally, Carman’s Web site includes an interactive component where the map of Pioneer Park is showcased along with video of the real thing.The component is designed to appeal to a technological craving for younger kids. But should Carman, who tours a couple of months of the year, ever get homesick, the video footage can help him now link to home.”I feel so blessed to live in a great part of the country,” he said. “I would never want to make my home anywhere else.”

Patrick Carman