Batesville Herald Tribune, Batesville, Indiana

April 18, 2014

Students sing along with Harley

Diane Raver The Herald-Tribune
The Batesville Herald-Tribune

---- — Bill Harley, an author, storyteller and two-time Grammy Award-winning musician, visited Batesville primary and intermediate schools April 14-15, entertaining students in grades K-5. He also presented a family concert Tuesday evening at Batesville High School.

The musician sang songs with kindergarten students. The lyrics for the first one were “so long, my mom. Sorry, but I cannot stay. I’ve got a big load, and it’s a long road, and I have to be on my way.” He also taught the youngsters sign language to go along with it.

With assistance from the audience, the Massachusetts resident added verses to “I’m not Small.” He began with “I’m not small. I’m so tall. I can carry a tree on my back. When it grows, I’ll grow, too. That’s not very hard to do.”

Some of the kids’ suggestions included a dragon and elephant. He sang, “I can carry a dragon on my back. When it breathes fire, I’ll breathe fire, too .... I can carry an elephant on my back. When it squirts water, I’ll squirt water, too. That’s not very hard to do.” Through their giggles, the kindergartners joined in.

Harley also told stories and shared some of his other songs. He showed a picture of his house and the studio where he writes his stories and songs.

With the fifth-graders, the entertainer began with a song about adults. “Grownups are strange. That’s a fact. But there’s just goin’ forward, you can’t go back. Grownups are weird, yes, that’s true. Someday that could happen to you.”

He kept their interest by telling a very funny story based on adventures he had with his friend, Sheldon, his friend’s little sister, Louise “Weezy”; and their neighbor, Francis.

The speaker, who grew up on the north side of Indianapolis, told the group, “Before I wrote books, I told stories .... One day, a publisher came up to me and asked if I wanted to turn my stories into books.” That’s where it all began.

“I have a rule that I follow: Every day I don’t do a show, I have to write in the morning for at least an hour .... It’s really hard for me to sit still, so if I want to write books or songs, I have to sit there. I can write about 1,000 words in an hour. My Charlie Bunker books are about 20,000 words, so it takes me about a month to write a book.

“The Sheldon story is based on a folk tale. I borrowed the structure of the story to tell it my own way.”

He added, “A story is about wanting something. The first thing you have to do is show who somebody is. It also starts and ends someplace.

“Usually, if you watch a movie, you see how a story works. The first five or 10 minutes will tell you who the person is. Then something happens, and that person’s life is going to change.

It is a long process to get a book published. “My first draft usually stinks. It’s OK that it’s horrible. Most of my books get written about six or seven times.” After he wrote his first Charlie Bunker book, it took six years to get published. “Now I have one every six months.”

As Harley writes a book, it goes back and forth to editors and the publisher “until one day I go out, and I have a box of books (delivered). It’s amazing.”

The author encouraged the students, “There’s a book in the library for you to read .... Once you find it, there will be another one.

“I do like writing books, but it’s not easy. Things that are really good are not easy. Most people who write books don’t make millions of dollars, but they like what they do.

“I feel so lucky that I get to do what I do because every day I get an e-mail or phone call from a kid or parent saying they like my books, and I feel like I’m doing my job.”

Harley’s visit was made possible thanks to the Arts in Education program of the Rural Alliance for the Arts and the John W. Hillenbrand Vision Fund for Quality Education.

Diane Raver can be contacted at or 812-934-4343, Ext. 114.