Writer: CALEB VIERKANT // Photographer // ANDREW D. BROSIG // Sept./Oct. 2015
A kidnapped squirrel who is desperately trying to get home, an unloved letter of the alphabet who wants to feel important, a frog who dreams of flying, a young girl’s visit to the Rose Festival Queen’s Tea and a detective story about a missing stash of nuts.
The man behind these children’s stories is Marvin Mayer of Tyler, Texas. After retiring from a career in banking and finance in 2007, Mayer began dedicating his time to writing books for children.
The great-grandfather says he loves kids and still is a kid at heart.
“I relate to youngsters so much so that I decided to write stories just for kids,” he shares on his East Texas Writers Guild profile. “As a child, I didn’t learn to enjoy the wondrous world of books. … Now, as a result of my involvement with writers’ groups, my outlook has changed. I think I have read and enjoyed more children’s books in the last year than I had read in all my years as a child.”
After earning a degree in accounting from The University of Louisville, Mayer began a long career in banking and finance. He frequently moved to follow work and met his wife, Iris, in New Orleans, Louisiana. They later lived in Shreveport and Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Kansas City, Missouri; Hartford, Connecticut; and finally in Dallas, Texas. After Marvin retired, the Mayers moved to Tyler.
Although he’d always enjoyed writing, he credits his wife with the idea of becoming an author of children’s stories. While they were living in Connecticut in the mid-1990s, she picked up a brochure from the Institute of Children’s Literature. Based in West Redding, Connecticut, the institute offers classes on writing stories for young readers and how to submit a manuscript to publishers.
“She kept it. She held on to it all those years and when I retired she said something like, ‘Honey, I’m delighted that you’re retiring, but I don’t do lunch.’ And she handed me the brochure and said she thought it was something I would want to pursue,” says Mayer.
Intrigued, he took a course called “Writing for Children and Teenagers.”
His first book, “Sammy Squirrel and the Sunflower Seeds,” was written and published before he completed the course. He came up with the idea for Sammy from hearing about a family who had problems with squirrels in their attic. He knew he had to give the squirrels human attributes to imagine how they might react to situations.
His other books include “Ferdinand Frog’s Flight,” a story about a frog who wants to fly; “The Day X Ran Away,” a tale about a letter with self-esteem issues; and “Case of the Stolen Stash,” a mystery involving a stash of bird seed and the famous detective Sherlock Hawk.
His latest book, “The Queen’s Tea,” tells the adventure of a 6-year-old girl who attends the Queen’s Tea, an annual event at the Texas Rose Festival in Tyler, featuring the festival’s rose queen and her ladies-in-waiting in their lavish coronation attire in the blooming Tyler Rose Garden. With illustrations by Lindsay Boone, the book is written in rhyming verse.
“I’m trying to convey my antiquated moral values to today’s children,” Mayer says. “Not all of (the books) have a subtle message, but none of them will have anything that is trendy or embraces ethnic issues that a lot of books like to embrace. I’m not going to go there. I want my books to be light, airy, fun and not preachy.”
On his website, kidsbooksbymarvin.com, he adds: “We let our characters do the talking and let them and our readers learn that doing the right thing helps them feel good about themselves.”
Sammy Squirrel, for example, learns that it’s very important to listen to his parents. Ferdinand Frog learns that you should be careful what you wish for.
Mayer applies the desire to help children feel good about themselves to his volunteer activities.
He reads to children at the Tyler library’s After School Rules reading program, works with the youth group at his church and with youth being served by the Children’s Advocacy Center.
“In short, I’m just a guy who, in my retirement years, enjoys being with children, playing with them and helping them learn about their world. And (I’m) hoping to make a difference in the lives of children I have yet to meet,” he says on his writers’ guild profile.
A highlight of his career as a writer was receiving a thank you note from a little girl. Written on a tiny sheet of notebook paper, the simple note thanked him for a book she and her mother had bought from him at an event. The little girl encouraged him to write more.
He says notes like that and watching a child enjoy one of his books is all the motivation he will ever need to keep writing.
“It’s a lot of fun to write children’s books because the rewards of seeing the children enjoy them are more valuable to me than the money.”
From “Sammy Squirrel and the Sunflower Seeds”
As Sammy climbed down the tree that warm summer morning, he couldn’t believe his eyes. Right in front of him was a tray full of his favorite food in all the world; SUNFLOWER SEEDS. Wow! He thought.
Where did this feast come from? Was it a gift from the humans? After all, they did provide food for the birds. Maybe this was a special treat, meant just for him.
But there was a problem. The tray of sunflower seeds was inside some strange contraption; a long, narrow box made of metal wire. He could see and smell those inviting seeds, but without entering the cage, he couldn’t quite reach them.
“Get away from there,” scolded Father Squirrel. “Those seeds were put there to tempt you, and if you go inside the cage to get them, you’ll be trapped. You’ll be taken away, and we’ll never see you again.”
Sammy should have listened to his father …