VINTON–Herman L. Horn Elementary played host to children’s author, singer, and songwriter Daryl Cobb on January 27, celebrating “Pirate Day” at the school.
The visit was arranged by Title I teachers Julie Huckaby and Sandra Hunt.
Cobb lives in New Jersey and visits about 80 schools each year promoting literacy and teaching children about writing and the creative process through interactive assemblies.
His own writing career began in college at Virginia Commonwealth University where he majored in Theatre Arts. He toured for about ten years focusing on his music and playing guitar. He had taken steps to concentrate on a songwriting career in Nashville at about the same time his wife told him he was soon to be a father, which “in a reality check” led him to a different career path.
The author held two morning assemblies at HLH, one for grades preschool through second grade, and then another for grades 3-5, staged in the school gymnasium. Cobb adapted each presentation for the age and interests of the students participating, and kept both groups of students mesmerized with his storytelling skills. Parental involvement was encouraged with an evening session for parents and family at 6:30.
Most of the younger students were dressed as pirates for their assembly, with hats donated by Long John Silver’s restaurant or made in their classes. Some had fashioned pirate arm hooks in the HLH STEM lab which is stocked with all sorts of recyclables donated by staff and families.
Cobb asked both age groups how stories start, looking for the answer “with ideas.” He said that many of his story ideas stemmed from experiences in his own life, especially from times spent with his children.
“They inspired much of my work,” said Cobb.
His first story, “Boy on a Hill,” was written as a bedtime story for his son Cameron and grew from a day spent observing clouds and their shapes. Cobb says that “before I knew it, I had a shoe box full of bedtime stories written.”
He spent time discussing the writing process even with the younger students who are familiar with the edits of their teachers when they turn in assignments. He advised the upper grade levels on how to develop the aspect of “conflict” in their stories to make them more interesting to readers, how to add descriptors and call attention to details, and how to maintain continuity throughout a story.
Cobb kept the older students spellbound in explaining the basis of his chapter book, “Baseball Bullies and Angels” as an outgrowth of being bullied during middle school. He shared that he had been “different” than his classmates—much taller than his peers, shy, and with an attention deficit disorder. One section of the book was set during a baseball game between his team, the Giants, and the team of his nemesis, the Cardinals.
During the story, he was able to outwit the bully who pitched for the opposing team and score the winning run by stealing bases. Cobb said his father had always advised him to “talk it out or walk away” and he rated the ball game as “Diplomacy 1—Violence 0” after the victory.
After the assemblies, Cobb had lunch with several students selected for the treat, hosted a book signing, and then visited individual classrooms for more specific discussions of writing strategies.
Huckaby and Hunt discovered Cobb by doing some Internet research on children’s authors, chiefly those who make visits to schools. The teachers said Cobb has been especially easy to work with in scheduling, in meeting the specific needs of the program at HLH, and in sending books early for use in the classrooms to acquaint students with his writing before Pirate Day.
Cobb says he very much enjoys the format of his program which allows him to both perform and teach literacy skills, especially writing.
“We are all writers,” said Cobb to the elementary school students. “The one thing you need is experience. Everyone here has written a short story. That’s exactly what I do for a living. Everyone’s story starts at the same place—with an idea—and takes readers on a journey.”
Cobb has written several “pirate-themed books,” which established the theme for the day, including one that he personalized for Herman L. Horn, entitled, “Do Pirates Go to Herman L. Horn?” The story contains pages which list Principal Susan G. Brown as “Captain,” the teachers individually as crew members, and the date that the school was established in 1961 for “the higher learnin’ of pirates.”
On his website, Cobb says that his goal is “to help children see that writing and reading can be fun.”
With that mission in mind, he has written 15 children’s books so far for children from kindergarten through eighth grade. And on Monday, he managed to keep hundreds of Herman L. Horn students and adults enthralled in hour-long, high-energy assemblies with a combination of educational information and live performances of his readings, storytelling, songs, and many expressions of “AARGH” and “Aye” from his audience.