The River Valley is home to many talented and dedicated teachers. Three of those teachers have reached beyond the classroom, using their experience as instructors and in life to create distinct voices as authors. Bridget Smith has included unique learning techniques in two easy-read children’s books. Will McCrotty has included his self-help methods in two juvenile books about baseball. And Eli Cranor’s emotional observations of sports and life are relayed to adults in his new novel, numerous short stories, and personal essays, plus an advice column.
A multicolored, six-foot-long, stuffed caterpillar accompanied the sale and book signings for Bridget Smith’s first easy-read children’s book, Chloe’s Destiny. The story is told by a caterpillar who wants to fly but doesn’t know she has to go through metamorphosis to achieve her goal. Bridget’s colorful illustrations, her song Metamorphosis, and a glossary of terms are all included to fully engage a child in learning. An author once told her that if she was going to sell a cookbook, she should include a pan with the sale. Bridget used this strategy with her book and it worked. Her book received worldwide distribution. “People loved it,” Bridget says.
Bridget’s author presentation to elementary schools includes a self-made video of her writing, making mistakes, marking through, and correcting them in Chloe’s Destiny. “I want to show them the writing process,” Bridget says, “and how adults make mistakes, too.”
Her new book, If I Could Count to Ten, features a young girl who is insecure and shy. She doubts her ability to learn to count to 10. Bridget uses the technique of practice to overcome both shyness and the ability to count using her classroom experience and many talents to build a child’s self-esteem. The book features her original illustrations, fun facts about the animals in the book, comprehensive questions, and her song If I Could Count to Ten. “The book will fully engage a child in learning to identify numbers and number words,” Bridget says. During book signings, Bridget offers an oversized lollipop like the one covering the shy girl’s face in her book.
Each of Bridget’s books contains a variety of reading strategies through words, illustrations, and music. “I’ve been singing and making up stories since I was two years old,” Bridget says. She developed her drawing talent in high school classes. Now, Bridget is often commission for paintings and Bible journaling with illustrations.
A teacher at Sequoyah Elementary in the Alternative Classroom for 16 years, Bridget’s classes are filled with students ages five to eight that need extra help in confidence, obedience, and self-esteem. Bridget has received an award of excellence from the Arkansas Department of Education for her successful approach to education. Her clear voice is shown not only in her teaching but also in illustrating, songwriting in her writing.
Bridget said that after college and with each major life decision she has “sought the Lord’s guidance in what I was supposed to be doing with my life. The Lord put a desire in my heart to teach, write, illustrate, and publish children’s books. Publishing a book takes time and much patience, but the Lord is continually giving me divine connections. God is the reason for it all.”
Bridget will continue to write and says that she is currently working on e-books for her first two books and a new one entitled What About Me?. Recorded songs will be included in all three. To learn more about Bridget’s books, paintings and guidelines on how to help a child grow in knowledge, self-esteem, and to find purpose, visit her website Bridgetbuildscharacter.com.
Like Bridget, Will McCrotty used what he knew to pursue writing. His background of playing baseball and years of coaching are reflected in Will’s books Change of Thought and So, What!.
Will has been a 6th-grade teacher at Russellville Middle School (RMS) and the head baseball coach for Russellville High School for the last five years. In his role at RMS, he’s taught life skills which include creative thinking skills, debating, balancing a checkbook, and how to create a business. Prior to becoming an educator, Will played professional baseball for eight years with the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Cleveland Indians, and in their minor league systems.
Will’s first book, A Change in Thought, is a young adult non-fiction story in which words of wisdom from his mentors, Brad Wear, Tommy Lasorda, Del Crandall, Denny McCrotty and others who impacted his baseball experiences shine through lessons called “The Fellowship of the Miserable” and “Turn it over to God.” His hopes are that the book will help others through adversity with his three things to remember: Live for God, live passionately for your purpose, and live compassionately for others.
Will’s new juvenile book So, What! was inspired by his baseball background, his dad’s words that there is always someone that wants it (anything) as much or more than you, and an exciting backyard incident. “My father was my greatest mentor,” Will says. “He started the Russellville High School baseball program. That stuck in the back of my mind my entire life. When I wanted to slack off, his words came back to me.”
The backyard incident happened one night. “My dogs were outside making weird noises. It sounded like they were after some type of animal,” Will says. “When I went out to check, they had circled a grey cat with white paws. The cat looked like it was wearing white boots. The cat was fierce and lashed out at the dogs, one by one.” Will caged the cat and released it in a safe space. “The cat turned around and meowed at me before walking away,” Will says.
The image of the white-pawed cat surrounded by three dogs sparked the whole story in Will’s mind. In the book, that scrappy cat who never gave up in the face of great opposition was named Boots and placed in a noisy, barking dog environment. Boots, a confident, but anxiety-filled baseball player faces a championship game against the Dogville Barkers. The book was written for a young reader facing pressure and anxiety. He hopes that the book will serve as a guideline to overcome fear. His fellow teacher and author, Bridget Smith illustrated this book and she partnered with Will on book signings at Russellville’s Art Walk and Mistletoe Market.
You may contact Will through his email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Eli Cranor also played professional sports prior to becoming a teacher. He played in Sweden as the Carlstad Crusader’s quarterback and led them to the Swedish National Championship in 2011.
At the Gardner Campus in the Secondary Learning Center, Eli teaches English to 9th – 12th graders. He also taught a class in journalism, and some of his students participated in the federal program Jobs for American Graduates, JAG, which is a career-oriented program for at-risk children. He coached high school football at Arkadelphia, Clarksville, and Morrilton, but stopped when his daughter was born. “There wasn’t enough time for both,” Eli says.
Eli’s 20 years on the football field, from pee-wee to professional, shaped his whole life. “It taught me that I needed discipline,” Eli says. This code of conduct: practice, rules, and punishment is reflected in many of Eli’s writing projects in which he uses football analogies to reflect on life.
Eli says that his writing began when Johnny Wink, a college professor and mentor, “encouraged me to write. That’s where it all started.”
Before his first publication in 2018, Eli made a bold move. He wrote a letter and sent a short story to Charles Portis, author of True Grit. According to Eli, “he was the biggest Arkansas author I knew of.” Eli received suggestions from the author and continues to trade correspondence with Portis’s brother. Eli’s short story, “Don’t Know Tough” was published in The Greensboro Review, for which he won The Robert Watson Literary Prize. It was honored for the 2018 Miller Audio Prize by The Missouri Review.
This short story is also the basis for Eli’s novel, Don’t Know Tough, which is with an agent and making the rounds with publishers in New York. When published, it will be Eli’s first book in print. It won’t be Eli’s first novel, however. He’s written eight that range in subject matter from football to zombies. There are a couple of science fiction novels and a young adult novel in the mix.
The Courier published Eli’s weekly series called “From the Pocket” in 2018-19. Eli called it a “smorgasbord of topics covering politics, football, and nostalgia.” His newest series, “Athletic Support” is an advice column for parents of athletes. “It’s like ‘Dear Abby,” Eli says. “I receive questions from parents of all ages.”
“By and By” is a series Eli is contracted to write in 2019 for The Oxford American. Under the heading “Hash Mark” he writes with a football theme. Eli explains that a hash mark is “a little, white line which marks one yard of the hundred on the field. No one notices them.” Contained in each story are “little memories, like the hash marks on a playing field. The lessons the game taught me – the metaphorical hash marks, the small lines forever etched into the fields of my past ─ remain.”
To contact and learn more about Eli’s work visit his website www.elicranor.com