HARRISON — First-grader Michael’s fascination with children’s author Jay Isip’s “Dynomike” series stems from the fact that, “Jay’s books make you smile.”
And classmate Emily appreciates that they “teach kids how to be nice and use your imagination.”
These young “reviewers” aren’t alone in their views by any means, as evidenced by the enormous show of affection the entire class of 16 showered on the man who’s clearly their favorite writer when he made a surprise visit to Harrison’s Lincoln School last Thursday, May 24.
Isip didn’t show up empty-handed, either. He brought a box-load of copies of “Hot Head Henry,” a real page-turner, complete with illustrations, that the class had created — inspired by his last visit to the school.
The child-friendly 15-page book was, in part, an homage to the author since it included references to several of the characters who make appearances in Isip’s works. By way of thanks, Isip arranged for copies to be made and then presented them to the first-graders.
And, in turn, the youngsters had a surprise for Isip when they presented him with a little volume, “Just Jay,” a second class collaboration, also with student-made drawings, including mention of the author’s wrestling history and his real-life brother, Pete.
Isip, an alum of Belleville High School, where he is a volunteer wrestling coach brushed away tears, so moved was he by the children’s gesture.
Pointing to a sketch of his brother in the book, an impressed Isip remarked, “It even looks like Pete.”
First-grade teacher Brigette Picillo discovered the “Dynomike” series while researching supplemental literature choices for her class, was taken by it and introduced some samples via YouTube animations to the children.
“The students instantly loved it and begged me to hear more — so I reached out to Jay [whose pen name is Frank B. Rabbit] letting him know how much how much they loved his books,” Picillo said.
On his first visit, Isip read from one of his works,“Lovebug,” and provided them copies of another, “Magical Space,” after learning it was the students’ favorite. “The kids picked up immediately that all of his books taught a lesson,” Picillo noted. His next visit, he read from “Talent Show Time.”
When the class began a discussion of the “social skill” for the month — patience — the students clamored for a “Dynomike” book on that theme. When told there were none, Picillo said, “they all started asking if we could write one.”
About a month later, with the kids coming up with ideas and flushing them out with their teacher during spare time, “Hot Head Henry” was born. The class sent a copy to Isip and “he absolutely loved it,” Picillo recalled. In gratitude, he arranged to publish copies for them.
And now his admirers have reciprocated.
Born and raised in Belleville, Isip — who declares he’s “a Belleville Buccaneer for life” — confessed he wasn’t much of a reader during his school days.
As a kid, the only written work that interested him was “Ninja Turtles” and, he recalls, “I only got through half of it.”
After leaving high school, he had no plans for college. Instead, he drifted into athletic-related pursuits, leading him to establish his own mixed martial arts enterprise and stayed with that 15 years while turning pro.
But, at the same time, he felt a pull in the literary direction.
“After high school, something clicked and I started reading a lot,” Isip said. And, one day, “I decided I wanted to write a book — so I did my autobiography.”
Published in March 2016, it’s called “Happy Chasing Happy: An Aimless High To Happiness Vol. 1 Fight Addiction.”
One reviewer found it “a true knockout, written with the patience and precision one would expect from a veteran novelist. … Jay Isip writes like Hunter S. Thompson at times, blending personal recollection with humor, providing readers with ringside seats to his own darkest moments. By the close of the book, readers have been given an uplifting, timeless and honest lesson.”
More recently, Isip has switched to children’s books, publishing and selling them online.
“I want to reach a multitude of young lives,” Isip said. “Young brains are like sponges. If a kid can read a book and enjoy that, what better way to reach a child’s heart. They’re going to remember that experience the rest of their lives.”
No question about how visceral the connection made between this author and these Harrison first-graders.
“Words cannot express the joy of reading and writing that Jay has brought to my classroom this year. I am grateful to call him a friend,” Picillo said.