There’s a new, unlikely hero for young boys who are struggling or reluctant readers.
The “Alien Dude!” book series debuted earlier this year and recently released its second book, “Alien Dude! Mr. Evil Potato Man and the Food Fight.” The author, south Charlotte resident Beth Smith, will visit the Barnes & Noble Arboretum location’s educators’ fair. The event takes place Saturday, Oct. 11, from 9 a.m. to noon at the 3327 Pineville-Matthews Road store.
Smith spent 10 years as an elementary school teacher, and was fed up with the lack of books for early elementary-aged boys who were struggling with reading or having difficulty enjoying reading.
“Most of the books written at beginner levels were written for girls,” she said. “I also have a son, Blake, … who was a very reluctant reader. Reluctant readers just don’t want to read, and the struggling reader usually is also a reluctant reader.”
As she scoured the libraries, bookstores and online catalogs searching for books for Blake, Smith found very little. She decided if no one else was writing these books, she needed to do it herself.
Smith quit teaching about three-and-a-half years ago and started writing a book geared toward boys 6 to 8 years old, especially those who were struggling or reluctant readers. Blake, now in high school, served as an “advisor” throughout the process, helping his mom choose the book titles, the title character’s name and more.
“After I wrote the story for the first one, I went to my son, and he wasn’t thrilled about it,” Smith said.
The first book in the series, “Alien Dude! and the Attack of Wormzilla,” originally ended with Alien Dude fighting off evil worms by singing and dancing, but Blake didn’t approve of the ending and offered an alternate twist.
“He told me when Alien Dude gets the worms out of the school, he should fart and burp,” Smith said. “I’m still getting comfortable saying that word (fart) out loud; I make sure people know it’s not my idea.”
Smith began attending workshops about three years ago to learn how to publish stories and was told no company would publish an easy-reader book by a new author. She decided to pursue self-publishing, but was told there would be a negative connotation with a self-published book, so she adopted “E.K. Smith” as her pen name.
To further professionalize the book, Smith’s husband, Michael, chose to start his own publishing company, Zip Line Publishing.
“At this point, it’s just a small, two-person company,” Michael Smith said. “A lot of what I’ve done is just traveling, learning about the industry, studying, getting the first book out and getting it into bookstores … I’ve basically just learned by doing.”
Beth Smith teamed up with Arizona artist Peter Grosshauser, who provided illustrations for the book, and the first book in the “Alien Dude!” series was published in January after three years. She’s received positive feedback from reviewers and readers since the book’s publication, and Zip Line Publishing released the second book in the series, “Alien Dude! Mr. Evil Potato Man and the Food Fight,” last month.
The books are currently being sold in the Charlotte area at Park Road Books, multiple Barnes & Noble stores and area book fairs, as well as places in Hickory, Raleigh, Florida, California, Colorado and Greenville, South Carolina. The series also is available online at BarnesAndNoble.com and Amazon.com, as well as “random places” in the United Kingdom, Smith said.
The Smiths are participating in a number of book signings to promote the series and are currently seeking a distributor to help place the books in more stores across the U.S. Beth Smith’s goals are to write a complete set of 10 books, along with accompanying lesson plan and sticker books.
“We want boys to pick (the books) out on their own for independent reading,” she said. “These books are made to be enjoyable for kids who want a book they can sit down and read on their own without having to ask what the words are.”
Find more information at www.zipintoreading.com