Ventriloquist, children's book author stars at Jenkins-White literacy event

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Author Ed Spruill and Jordan the puppet entertain children during Jenkins-White Elementary Charter School's Burgers and Books event.  CHRIS THELEN/STAFF
CHRIS THELEN/STAFF
Author Ed Spruill and Jordan the puppet entertain children during Jenkins-White Elementary Charter School's Burgers and Books event.

Hair.

It launched Ed Spruill’s second career. But he’s not a cosmetologist, or even a barber.

He is a children’s book author with a message – hair is hair – and he shared it with students at several area schools Dec. 8.

As the main attraction at Jenkins-White Elementary Charter School’s annual Burgers and Books literacy event that evening, Spruill used a mock game show to illustrate his hair message.

He dressed up three contestants in exaggerated wigs that loosely represented Marilyn Monroe (“the Blonde”), Bob Marley (“the Dreadlock”) and Elvis Presley (“the Brunette”). After plenty of laughs, Spruill asked the audience which of the characters had good hair and which had bad hair.

Children laughed and jumped up and down while they shouted their opinions.

“You all get it wrong,” Spruill told them. “There is no such thing as good hair or bad hair. Hair is hair.”

About 11 years ago, while living in Naples, Fla., Spruill’s son Jordan was the only black child in a class full of white children. He wanted to know why his hair was different from the others.

So Spruill wrote a book he titled Jordan’s Hair to teach his son that just because his hair was different didn’t mean it was bad.

“However you’re made, you’re perfect the way you are,” he said.

He published the book and began to take his message to the schools. But rather than just read his book and speak to the children, Spruill developed an interactive program that draws children into his story and teaches them through laughter and play.

To begin with, he developed a ventriloquist act with a puppet version of Jordan.

Tra’niyah Hawkins, 8, bobbed her head and sang along as Jordan performed his own version of Bobby McFerrin’s Don’t Worry Be Happy.

She later said her favorite part of the show was when “the man let the muppets talk.”

Spruill continues to improve his act by adding new components every year. This year, he added a cartoon version of Bearilla the Bully Behaved, the latest of his four children’s books.

As a former school teacher, Spruill adopted a different business model for his program than most authors, he said. He charges the school a nominal fee and then offers for sale a high-quality line of merchandise based on his books, with items at a variety of price points. It gives him the opportunity to present his program at schools that might not be able to afford him otherwise.

“The reason I did the program (this way) was so that everybody, whether the school has money or not, they could all see a good show and have high-quality merchandise and see a good educational program,” he said.

Burgers and Books is an annual event presented by the school to promote literacy, and Principal Janie Norris said she felt privileged to have Spruill be a part of the program this year.

“This is one of the most special activities we have for families,” she said.

In addition to the show, parents shopped with their children at a book fair in the media center and looked at children’s artwork in the hallways, which were decorated in literary themes for the event. They were then treated to a hamburger dinner before Spruill took the stage.

“It’s a feel-good, fun evening. We focus on reading. There’s nothing bad about it,” said school media specialist Francine Klensin.


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