Two educators from Dunaway Elementary — librarian Becky Lowry and fifth grade teacher Lily Hall — received a treat last week they will not soon forget.
As book faire chairperson, Lowry, who has worked as the school’s librarian for 19 years, was invited by Scholastic, Inc., to a meet-the-author event in Dallas, an annual event held as a thank you for all book faire coordinators in the region.
The featured author this year was Henry Winkler, forever known for his role as “The Fonz” on the 1970s TV series “Happy Days.”
Lowry invited Hall, who has also been at Dunaway Elementary for 19 years, as her guest to the event, which included a one-hour presentation, followed by a book signing.
“He read for us and it was fabulous,” said Hall, who mentioned that Winkler reminded her of a 60-year-old version of his “Happy Days” character, Arthur Fonzarelli.
“(Winkler) was energetic. He had the same energy and the same enthusiasm as Fonzie. He was still cool. He was absolutely wonderful,” said Hall, who added, “The humor would just roll out of him.”
Winkler is co-author with Lin Oliver of a series of books about an imaginative, dyslexic fourth-grader named Hank Zipser.
“The main character is Henry Winkler as a child,” said Hall, who explained that she learned at the event that Winkler’s childhood nickname was Hank and that all the characters in the books are based on actual people he knew. Hall and Lowry also learned that Winkler – like his character Hank – suffers from dyslexia.
“I did not know he had those challenges. That was interesting to hear,” said Lowry.
The Dunaway educators pointed out that Winkler works in close collaboration with his co-author Oliver, who also has experience with learning disabilities – but from a parent’s perspective.
“(Oliver’s) child grew up with ADD,” Hall said, noting that the authors had a personal understanding of learning disability challenges and have not only used that experience in creating the storyline but have actually employed several techniques to make the books more user-friendly for those with learning disabilities.
“The chapters are shorter so that readers could, with less effort, say, ‘I’ve finished a chapter. I’ve accomplished something,’” said Lowry of one example in which the authors intentionally created for those with special needs in mind.
“As a person, I love the humor and resourcefulness of Hank,” said Hall of the main character of the books written to appeal to an audience of third to fifth graders. “Hank thinks out of the box,” said Hall, explaining that Hank’s ways were certainly not traditional.
“As an educator, I believe that whatever appeals to a student is worth reading. If you can find what appeals to them, you’ve hooked them,” said Hall, who is always looking for creative ways to instill a love for reading in her students.
Hall pointed out that part of the appeal for students is that they can relate to Hank.
“We have a lot of students that have challenges,” said Hall, listing learning disabilities such as dyslexia and ADD, as well as difficult situations at home and other obstacles.
Of the 14 books co-authored by Winkler and Oliver, several of them can be found on Dunaway Elementary library shelves.
“I have also purchased about nine of the books for my classroom,” said Hall, who finds them to be “funny and well-written.”
“They have been very popular (with students),” reports Lowry of the books in the Hank Zipser series.
One of the statements Winkler made at the event really impressed Hall. Winkler explained that it was someone else’s quote, but words that he lived by: “If you will it, it’s not a dream.”
“I guess one of the reasons I identified with that is because my motto is ‘Keep knocking until someone answers the door,’” said Hall, who states that her motto is inspired by words from Scripture.
No stranger to adversity or success, in addition to conquering the challenge of dyslexia, Winkler overcame his father’s insistence that he take another career path and Winkler’s Jewish family faced severe tragedy in Nazi Germany.
Winkler's family fled to the United States from Germany decades ago, but his grandparents were captured and taken to concentration camps. As a child growing up in the U.S., Winkler was expected to take over the family lumber business once reaching adulthood. Winkler had other aspirations, however, and while a college student saved enough money earned from roles in TV commercials to make a one-month trip to California. While there, her met his wife and landed a role in “Happy Days.”
“I was very impressed that he was able to overcome his disabilities and challenges to become a success in all that he is: actor, author, husband,” said Lowry.
Email Jennifer at email@example.com.