From Soldier to Children’s Author: Trent Reedy and His Visit in Champaign

After re-routes, flight changes, and a bus trip from Peoria, author Trent Reedy finally made it to Champaign to share his experience serving in Afghanistan, and his Words in the Dust, a book loosely based on his own encounters.

In his first novel, Reedy tells the story of Zulaikha, a young girl whose difficult life in Afghanistan is exacerbated by the fact she has a cleft palate.  Early in the story, she encounters the local bully. He calls her “donkey face,” which leaves Zulaikha feeling ashamed. While the story is fiction, Reedy and his fellow soldiers did pitch-in to raise the $400 needed to transport a young girl to a base where a doctor volunteered to perform the surgery.  Zulaikha’s house is based on a similar structure in which Reedy lived.  A tragic event involving Zulaikha’s sister was, unfortunately, based on a similar event Reedy witnessed. In his book, as well as his presentations, Reedy paints a vivid picture of Afghan culture. With great detail, he takes the reader into an Afghan village and family, complete with customs and societal norms.

Although a trip to Mattoon Middle School was canceled due to the weather, Mr. Reedy traveled to Eastern Illinois University, where he spoke at a joint meeting of the East Central-EIU Illinois Reading Council, the Beta Psi Chapter, Middle Level Educators’ Club, and of the Kappa Delta Pi (an education honor society). Mattoon Middle School reading teacher and East Central-EIU IRC president Ingrid Minger introduced the author. Engaging a crowd of 70 faculty and students, Reedy told the audience that he grew up wanting to be a writer and that his second book Stealing Air is based on a story he had written in sixth grade. He majored in English at the University of Iowa and signed up for the Iowa National Guard to help pay for college. He didn’t expect to be called up to serve, and especially didn’t think he would ever end up providing security for the reconstruction in Afghanistan. He described how his life events, including his time as a high school English teacher, prepared him to be a successful author.

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Reedy then traveled to Tuscola East Prairie Middle School to participate in Voices on the Prairie, a parent-child reading event funded by a grant from the Illinois Reading Council. Reedy spoke to an audience of 90 teachers, parents and students, all who had read Words in the Dust. After his presentation, the students asked detailed questions about Afghanistan and the book.  Because the chapters in his book don’t have titles, the students were assigned to write titles. Reedy led an hour-long session with the audience to discuss what titles were given and why. He later looked at posters students made and even took some with him.  He wrapped-up the event by signing the students’ copies of Words in the Dust. For Colleen Lehmann’s coverage of Reedy’s visit in Tuscola, click here to see her article in the Tuscola Journal.

Collage of posters prepared by Tuscola middle school students

Collage of posters prepared by Tuscola middle school students based on what they learned about Afghan culture

The next day Reedy met with a local radio reporter and high school friend, Brian Moline, who is the host of Afternoon Interviews on WDWS 1400 AM. Brian asked Reedy about his books and the events of the day before in an interview that can be found here.

Later that day Reedy met with a group of 30 librarians, children and parents at the Urbana Free Library.  Reedy engaged the group with his pictures and stories of Afghanistan. He also offered advice to several young writers in the audience.  Reedy signed copies of his book that were available for sale at the Library through the Illini Union Bookstore.

Inviting Trent Reedy to the area gave REEEC the opportunity to engage teachers, pre-service education students, middle school students, parents, and the community with Reedy’s accurate and beautiful account of life in Afghanistan. REEEC will be developing an online curricular module for Words in the Dust, and plans to bring more authors to the area in the future.

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