When Hickory residents Mark “Hootie” Bowman and Bryan Jones sit down to their Thanksgiving meal this week, they’ll have much to be thankful for: Families they adore, busy careers, lasting friendships and a fun hobby some might be surprised to discover about the thirty-something former N.C. State frat boys – they write and illustrate children’s books.
The results are interactive hardbacks that introduce children to popular colleges and universities.
As young readers manipulate movable parts, scratch and sniff, stroke textured objects and enjoy the simple rhyming cadence of each story, they traverse a college campus with the university mascot as their guide.
In “Go Mountaineers Go!” children meet Yosef, the mountain man. In “Go Wolfpack Go!” Mr. and Ms. Wuf lead the way. In “Go Tar Heels Go!” Rameses the ram not only shows off his historic Chapel Hill campus, he also plays basketball:
“See the ball, bright orange and round?
Watch Rameses as he shoots it down.
See him dribble. Watch him pass it,
Help him score the winning basket!”
Also published by Bowman’s and Jones’s company, Collegiate Kids Books, are children’s books about East Carolina University and Virginia Tech. Clemson, Tennessee and a slew of others are in the works, including one about the Marine Corps, in which the mascot takes the child through boot camp.
The books are fun, informative, and not just about sports, Jones said. As he and Bowman carefully research each institution, tour campuses and turn their findings into kids’ books, they include the academic, the athletic and the unanticipated.
For example, “Did you know that Duke has a lemur center?” asked Jones.
The two still are waiting for the go-ahead from Duke to publish their book about the Blue Devils. Part of the process involves working closely with each university to secure permission to publish, as well as the green light to include the information they’ve deemed most interesting to children.
So how did two fun-loving fathers – Bowman has three children, Jones two – become authors?
It was Jones’ idea; not long after Jones’ first daughter, Lauren, was born in 2002, he discovered the joys of reading to her.
“I began to notice that when she was old enough to select books for us to read to her, she gravitated toward the touch-and-feel interactive children’s books on the bookshelf,” said Jones. “That was when I began creating a touch-and-feel interactive NCSU children’s book.”
Jones’s wife, Kathryn, is a UNC Chapel Hill grad, meaning there’s conflict in the Jones household. Jones said he felt it his duty to educate his daughter early about the supremacy of everything red, “before my wife could turn her to the light-blue side,” he said, joking.
In 2003, Jones, who grew up in Greensboro, called longtime friend Bowman, a Hickory native, and said, “Let’s create a combination interactive, mascot-based children’s book.”
Bowman said he responded, “Great idea. Call me when you have it written.”
Jones, pointing to the fact that he’s an Eagle Scout, said, “When I start something, I’m going to finish it.”
Time passed, and a couple of things spurred the Eagle Scout into action.
One was a phone call from a cousin who’s a writer and married to a publisher. Jones had shared his idea with them. After mulling it over, they phoned to say, “It’s a winner of an idea.”
The second spur was the tanking of the economy. In 2009, the company where Jones worked filed for bankruptcy. He found himself laid off and wondering what to do.
Acquaintances suggested he start his own business. Scouts always have a plan B, so Jones started two businesses: Lake James Realty and Collegiate Kids Books.
Bowman, who sells HVAC equipment, is also a “super illustrator,” said Jones. In college, where most guys tape posters to their walls, Bowman created murals.
“Hootie honed his skills on bathroom walls and schoolbooks,” said Jones. Selecting Bowman as his art man was the only way to go.
Jones said that if he hadn’t had Bowman as illustrator, there was no way he’d be in the children’s book business.
Positive they had a great product in book one, Jones and Bowman contacted publisher after publisher. None were interested.
In 2010, the men decided to take matters into their own hands. They self-published and self-promoted, and their first book came out earlier this year.
Today they have a small warehouse and a hobby to which they turn on evenings and weekends. It’s not a big money-maker, but it’s entertaining and rewarding, they say.
Jones and Bowman are passionate about N.C. State, and they know there are many just as fired up about their alma maters; plus, the books are fun to play with, even for someone who’s grown up on the outside but still a mascot-loving kid on the inside.
Where better to locate those big kids than at university football games?
Jones and Bowman have spent many Saturdays signing their books at tables set up near university gridirons. “It’s a blast to sign books at games,” said Jones.
Just a couple of weeks ago, the authors returned to N.C. State for a book-signing in the concession area of Carter-Finley Stadium. They said their team was losing, and it was homecoming, “but we still had a ball,” said Bowman.
“People brought us books they’d already bought to get signed,” said Jones.
The authors have much for which to be thankful. They insist the book work is just a hobby – a really fun one – so they’re keeping their day jobs.
Or as the Eagle Scout would call it: Plan A.