Author Bruce Hale tells Glen City School students how reading changed his life

Lizards, sharks, spies populate writer’s imagination

February 12, 2016
Santa Paula News

Bruce Hale of Santa Barbara says he is the last person any of his classmates thought would grow up to be an author.

“I did not like books,” he told hundreds of Glen City School students at special assemblies last week. “I thought books were boring. I liked to run and around and cause trouble.” Little did he know the books he thought were so boring would transform his life. So far, he has written 40 children’s books and travels around the country and world, reading his books to thousands of students and inspiring them to do what he did: Dream it, then do it. 

Last week, he was at Glen City School sharing that message. This week: India.

Glen City School Book Ambassadors were ready for Hale. The students read his books and created videos about them that played in the multipurpose room before the three assemblies, geared for younger and older students. Lyn Tovar, reading specialist at Glen City School, was as excited as the students to be able to bring the funny author with such an inspiring message to the school.

Hale said he used to imagine what he would be when he grew up and quoted Albert Einstein: Imagination is more important than knowledge because knowledge is limited.

“Imagination is different because, with it, you can bring things into being that did not exist before,” Hale said, gesturing to his hat. “Someone had to think of this hat before it came into existence.” Students called out other things that were imagined before they existed: projector, basketball, football, TV.

Students then raised their hands to tell Hale what they imagined they might be when they grow up: doctor, designer, Marine, police officer, football player, nurse, soccer player, artist.

“You have taken the first step in realizing your dreams,” Hale told them.

Hale said that, as a child, he got career ideas from his “best friend”: the TV. A ride on Islands of the Caribbean at Disneyland made yearn to be a pirate until his dad persuaded him life on the sea was rough. A riveting western made him want to be a cowboy, only his parents wouldn’t buy him a horse. He watched “Spartacus” and wanted to be a gladiator, until his friend reminded him that gladiators fight lions and tigers and sometimes the lions and tigers win.

Then, he said somberly: “Something happened in my family that changed everything… We lost our TV!”

“I didn’t know how to live,” he quipped. His parents reassured him: “Don’t worry. We’re going to read to you from books.”

Finally, Hale said, he found the one book “that connected with me”: “Tarzan of the Apes.” That great story by Edgar Rice Burroughs “turned me into a reader,” he said. 

Hale showed the tattered first book he ever drew as a little boy, which he titled “Two Brothers at Master Town.” “Look, Mom, it’s a book,” he told her, even though it had no words and the book opened backward.

Hale said he shows his first book to remind students that “we all start in the same place, learning, making mistakes, figuring things out. Actually, it takes some work to reach our dreams.”

He asked the students what kind of work it might take to make their own dreams come true. They held up their hands and answered: Study, go to school, read, make the world a better place, get educated.

After you find what you love to do, Hale said, you have to practice. He then showed slides of his first drawings as a child, a teenager, in his 20s and then in his 30s, improving at every stage. “What made me an author was passion and practice,” he said. Another ingredient is “not giving up.”

He showed a slide of his dog, Riley, chewing on a log. Riley loves chewing so much, Hale said, he even chewed the wall. This, my friend, is persistence, and that’s what we need to do if we want to achieve our dreams … chew on logs.”

Everyone laughed.

Hale cautioned that challenges and distractions can interfere. His distractions included a little brother who ate his crayons, acting, the guitar, girls. After graduating, he traveled to Japan and then to Hawaii where he decided to write a book. Just one problem. He could not come up with a main character, until one day while driving home from work at his boring job at a telephone company, he spied a little brown gecko riding the hood of his car. Hale said he waited for him to blow off, especially after sharp curves. When the lizard hung on, Hale thought, “This is not an ordinary lizard. This is Super Gecko.”

And so Chet Gecko, Private Eye was born.

Then a series of more books, based on Clark the Shark; School for S.P.I.E.S.; Underwhere.

Students had lots of questions for Hale, who read “Big Bad Baby” and showed students how to draw the grouchy baby, using just a few basic shapes – circle, dot, line, half circle and angle. Questions included:

Q: “Why do you like hats?”

A: “I have about 25 different hats. You put one on and that changes your personality.”

Q: “How do you get a book published?”

A: “You do the best possible work you can and give it to a publisher or agent. And you keep trying.”

Hale said that if he had given up when his books were first rejected, he would not be an author today.

Q: “Are you a comedian?

A: “No.”

Q: “How long did it take you to write ‘Playing with Fire?’”

A: Two years.

Hale asked students where they got their best ideas.

They held up their hands and answered: Forest, bridge, Hawaii, bathroom.

Hale said his idea for a spy book came from a strict yoga teacher. “This teacher was not your typical yoga teacher. She was tough, fierce, yelling, ‘You, straighten your legs! You, flex your feet!’ I thought, ‘That is a great character for a book! Maybe I’ll do a spy story and she will be the spymaster.’ ”

Q: “How did you become an author?”

A: “Practice and being stubborn. Every time they said, ‘No,’ I would say, ‘Next!’ ”

When Hale told the students they have the power to make their dreams come true, the 58-year-old author flashed a picture on the screen of him riding an elephant in Thailand on his 33rd birthday, living his long-ago Tarzan dream. “So, hold onto your dreams,” he said.

When the children chanted with Hale in unison: “If I can dream it, I can do it,” he followed up with: “I believe it!”

Site Search



Call 805 525 1890 to receive the entire paper early. $50.00 for one year.