I’m Different from You
Clark student pens book, inspires children to be themselves
By Rhonda Morin
Casey Harrison often takes the back roads from his home in Battle Ground, Wash., to get to class at Clark College’s central campus. He doesn’t like the highway; too many cars. He prefers taking life a little slower and quieter—the reflective manner of an author.
At age 32, with the ink on his General Education Development (GED) still fresh from his 2013 graduation, Harrison is the author of two children’s books and is working on a third.
“My motivation for writing the books is from watching people treat each other poorly,” Harrison said. He took to writing poetry and painting in watercolors to express goodwill toward others.
“The heaviness of not being accepted and others telling me ‘you’re never going to do this and that’ or ‘you just need to be this way’ inspired me to pick up the pen and draw,” said Harrison, as his adjusts his baseball cap over his short dreadlocks, revealing a Jiminy Cricket tattoo behind his left ear.
Harrison’s young life was mired by a mother “who didn’t make good choices,” thereby leaving him to be raised by his grandparents until Harrison was nine when he returned to his mother. Harrison spent many hours poring over comic books and newspaper cartoons, losing himself in the clever fantasies.
“Childhood is tough,” he said. One way to help kids through rough patches in their lives is to get them to read or explore something creative. “Like a book they can color while learning it’s OK to be different from others.”
“I’m an Ostrich,” Harrison’s children’s book that debuted in 2012, begins with a preface about differences.
“I left all the characters in this book blank for each child to color, so feel free to help them understand it’s OK to have a pink or yellow ostrich. Because being different makes the difference in each and every one of our lives.”
While Harrison read from “I’m an Ostrich” one morning at Clark College’s Oliva Family Early Learning Center, the teacher, Paul Caggianese asked the children what sound an owl makes. “Hoot, hoot,” they called out. Then he asked what sound an ostrich makes. “I don’t know,” said one 4-year-old boy. “Well, I guess we have some research to do,” said Caggianese.
It was a perfect learning opportunity for Clark’s littlest penguins.
Meanwhile, Harrison’s ostrich searches in vain for other birds like himself. He asks an eagle, owl, penguin and even travels “north and south, west to east, near and far” in search of Mr. Kiwi for a comrade. But the impatient kiwi simply dismisses the ostrich.
The children of the Oliva Family Early Learning Center are transfixed, waiting to hear what becomes of the sullen ostrich. Until the smallest of birds lands on the ostrich’s beak and offers the revelation. The ostrich has unique qualities that make him what he is and he ought to embrace his long, fast legs, proclaims the hummingbird.
“The ostrich just needed to be himself all along. Strong and fast on land, so he ran and ran and he ran, all because he knew he can,” the book concludes.
Harrison is a Pat Fencl Scholarship recipient studying for his associate degree in Fine Arts at Clark. Fencl is a retired Clark faculty member who taught in the GED program. Harrison is a recent graduate from Clark’s Integrated Basic Education & Skills Training (I-BEST) program. I-BEST combines basic education, college-level courses and extra support for students pursuing associate or vocational degrees.
Academics are still relatively new for Harrison, who made a living as a furniture mover more than 10 years before an injury sidelined him. His family frequently moved when he was a teenager as his parents searched for work, thereby leaving Harrison short on high school credits.
He learned to take care of himself. By age 12, he was cleaning daycare facilities for his aunt, who owned a maintenance business. A few years later, his mother “kicked me out of the house because I didn’t want to work at the company anymore,” and Harrison moved to Las Vegas to live with another relative.
When he realized, at age 17, that a diploma wasn’t within reach, he decided to forgo school and work full time. The money was good; he eventually rented an apartment, bought a car, nice clothes and a gold chain. “I felt successful already—more than my friends,” he recalled.
But by 2008, a reoccurring pain in his neck and shoulder changed his life. The condition temporarily paralyzed his left side. A severe muscle strain made his heart race, so his doctor suggested tests, rest and prescription pain pills. Harrison complied for a few days, but with limited savings and a youthful bravado, soon returned to work.
The pain persisted for two years. Harrison’s paychecks dwindled as he was forced to stay home to recover. Multiple doctor appointments later, he was diagnosed with nerve damage, bone spurs and spinal degeneration.
“The doctor told me I was a 30-year-old guy with a 60-year-old person’s neck.”
The diagnosis left him depressed and unsure of his future. “I had been moving furniture since I was 17; that’s basically what I knew how to do,” he said, adding, “That’s when I picked up a pen and paper and started writing.”
Harrison first wrote “I’m an Ostrich” as a poetic biography, telling the people in his life that he was the ostrich. “Like the ostrich, I was looking for someone like me, even though some people may look the same, really they are different.”
Making of a book
Harrison writes and illustrates his books. “I’m an Ostrich” is a watercolor creation, something he hadn’t done since adolescence. “I got out my old watercolor set. The paints were junky, so I had to buy new ones.”
He wrote the words of this first book within a few hours, breaking the poem into sections to fit into a storybook format. He spent several days creating the illustrations, then found a self-publisher in New Hampshire, called MindStir Media, who was interested in his book.
Self-publishing means you are the marketing team. Thus, Harrison arranges his readings at local daycares, primary schools and literary fairs. He created business cards as thin magnets so parents can affix them to their refrigerator or children will stick them on their lunchboxes.
When he’s not marketing his book or doing homework, Harrison is brainstorming his next creation. “My goal is to write five books before I’m 33.”
His second book is in production and will be available next year. It’s titled “What is Your Favorite Season? Do You Know?” The third will be about a child who always exclaims “I want!” and the lessons he learned. The idea was inspired by the many times Harrison has heard children say “I want” in the grocery store.
Book number four focuses on planets and their inhabitants, and number five will tell the story of a determined mouse who vies to play on a basketball team despite his modest size.
Harrison finances his books from savings and help from friends and family. Each month he gets a royalty check— $20 or $45—reminding him that a handful of people are enjoying I’m an Ostrich.
“It’s a good feeling,” he said, “being creative, finding a purpose and most of all, being myself.”
Editor’s Note: Casey Harrison’s books are available online at amazon.com, barnes&noble.com, powellsbooks.com and mindstirmedia.com