by Debra Johnson, Published August 24, 2012
YPSILANTI - In a new children's book written by author Marquin Parks, the main character Wrinkles Wallace, 28, along with a zany group of fellow adult classmates have to repeat the 5th grade! With classmates such as Lenny, the vicious, verbal vulture; Urhiness ("Your Highness"), the mirror and magazine diva; Snooze, the sultan of sleeping in class; and Spork, the chef who cooks up catastrophic combinations of culinary crud, Parks knows how to capture his young readers attention.
The book, geared for ages 8-12, is full of humor and silliness - but Parks has methodically placed serious "real life" issues into the storyline that deal with responsibility, treating others with respect, self-improvement and utilizing teamwork to overcome obstacles. And, in a unique role reversal, the adult students have to deal with the crazy antics of their teacher, Mr. Sittin' B. Quiet, who, by the way, is only ten. It's an interesting irony having the young teaching the old.
Over the course of the novel, Wrinkles and the crew have to work together to figure out how to accept and overcome their own issues, before they can begin to overcome and outsmart their teacher and pass fifth grade. With Mr. Sittin' B. Quiet staying one step ahead of the students by twisting the requirements and turning the tables on their progress, readers are kept in suspense until the very end before finding out how the story unfolds.
Parks, a native of Ann Arbor, received a bachelor of science in elementary education from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and a master of arts in social foundations of education from EMU in 2009. He became an elementary school teacher and taught at New Beginnings Academy in Ypsilanti, and is currently teaching 5th grade in the Farmington Public School District.
During the summer of 2011, Parks was selected to participate in the Eastern Michigan Writing Project (EMWP), an intensive four week session designed for teachers and administrators concerned with the teaching of writing in any subject area and who are interested in professional growth opportunities. Along with 13 fellow teachers, Parks hoped of become a better teacher of writing and said it was a very prolific time for him.
"Eastern's Writing Project influenced me to go above and beyond and to believe in myself and my abilities as a writer," said Parks. "It allowed me to formulate and establish my philosophy on writing in a manner that challenged me as an author and educator. The discussions, presentations, group work, research and sharing of writing, fueled my fire to do something bigger with the gifts I possess. Once I accepted myself as a writer, things really began to take off for me."
Parks said inspiration to write Wrinkles Wallace: Knights of Night School was born out of trying to motivate his elementary students to read in class. "I would rely on my creative writing skills when I needed to entertain my students in the classroom and I started writing my first book during their silent reading period. Then, I would read excerpts to my students and get their feedback," he said.
"I've always wanted to write a children's book that takes kids through situations that can influence their lives in a positive and meaningful manner," said Parks. "It can be hard to teach these situations in a classroom - but through writing I can share the information in ways that they can understand and enjoy, while expanding my audience in order to help more students and teachers."
Parks has continued his involvement with Eastern's Writing Project and frequently visits undergraduate classrooms on campus offering examples of his writing and personal experiences to encourage students to "follow their dreams." He also spoke at the summer writing camp "Inkstains" and has shared his love of writing and teaching during numerous Author Talks to youth in the area.
"Marquin won our admiration for sharing the work of a novel in progress, not Wrinkles Wallace, but a succeeding work," said Bill Tucker, director of the Writing Program at Eastern. "We knew him as a teacher who loved children, especially the challenging ones. His teaching demonstration showed how he engaged those students with reading and writing."
EMU's Summer Invitational Institute is part of the National Writing Project (NWP) and has been offered continuously since 1992. The program has engaged about 300 teachers who teach at all grade levels K-12 throughout districts in Wayne, Monroe, Washtenaw, Livingston and Lenawee counties. The NWP, is a network of sites anchored at colleges and universities to provide teachers across all disciplines and at all levels with professional development and resources to improve the teaching of writing and learning in schools.
Once his first book was finished, Parks realized he had a lot more to say about his characters. "Their voices kept echoing in my head and I had to continue to write in order to make room for more," he said. Parks has since written four additional children's chapter books and two picture books.
Soon to be released - a series of sequels touching on such poignant topics as foreclosure in Wrinkles Wallace: Fighters of Foreclosure, the importance of positive parental relationships in Wrinkles Wallace: Power of Parents, and pursuing dreams in Wrinkles Wallace: Rights of Writers. A spin-off book has also been written in a new series called The Misunderstanding of Alexander the Grate about a misunderstood student who becomes an undercover agent for the principal.
What's next for Parks? Besides getting ready to teach school again this fall, he'll be traveling around the country giving Author Talks and plans to attend the Inaugural Annual Bammy Awards, (the educational equivalent of the Oscars/Grammys presented by The Academy of Education Arts and Sciences), held in Washington, D.C. this September.
"I am eager to get more of my books out and into the hands of young readers, so I hope to have the remainder of the Wrinkles Wallace series published as quickly as possible," Parks said.
Wrinkles Wallace: Knights of Night School, published by Meridia Publishers is available in paperback and e-books at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other major book retailers. To read excerpts from his blog, go to Wrinkles Wallace blogspot.