By Chris Zimmerman
Oct. 19, 2012 -- On his parents’ farm near Eufaula, Oklahoma just off of U.S. Route 69, ASA and CSSA member Jim Shroyer was driving tractors while most kids his age were riding bikes. “My first plowing event was on a John Deere A, and I was probably 10,” remembers Shroyer. “My brother’s advice was: don’t stick your arms through the steering wheel. I couldn’t understand why that was the case, but I figured out soon enough.”
Shroyer turned his childhood experience on the farm into a lifelong career. He has been an extension agronomist and professor at Kansas State University since 1980, where he’s known for his expertise regarding the Kansas wheat crop. And now, he’s also a published children’s author.
“The Adventures of Holly Holstein: Holly Greets the World” tells the tale of a Holstein calf being born during a brutal snowstorm on an Oklahoma farm. The story is inspired by real-life events and features a young girl named Mika, Shroyer’s granddaughter, who befriends the newborn calf. Read below to find out more about Shroyer’s journey to authorship.
CSSA: What was your inspiration behind writing a children’s book?
Shroyer: I have four boys. They loved to go back to east central Oklahoma to be on the farm. Growing up, they always liked to hear about the farm and asked a lot of questions. So I would try to explain to them the best I could. And also, for bedtime stories, I would tell them about things that happened on the farm. Holly was featured a time or two. But it wasn’t until much later, driving down a Kansas road on the way back from an extension meeting one night, that I realized I probably needed to put these into book form. That didn’t come to fruition until about a year ago when I met with a publisher and illustrator. And that’s when the ball got rolling.
CSSA: This isn’t the first book you’ve written, correct?
Shroyer: This is the first children’s book that I’ve published, but I’ve written two other Holly books. The book I just published is the last one I wrote. The first two stories I wrote probably 15 years ago and never pursued publishing them until someone I knew started a publishing company. So I talked with her, and we met with an illustrator, looking at the second book and started making illustrations for that one. But, we got to thinking about it, and realized we really needed a prequel to introduce Holly. So that’s how “Holly Greets the World” came about.
CSSA: What kind of class do you teach at Kansas State? How does teaching college students compare to educating young children?
Shroyer: I teach a crop growth and development class for sophomores and juniors and a few seniors. When you’re educating younger children, I think you need to have a nice story and good illustrations to capture their interests and imagination. So, I think that’s what’s important. And now as I’m thinking about it, I suppose that’s not much different than college-aged kids. You have to capture their interest, make it relevant, and keep them interested as well.
But adult learners are different in that they want what’s going to help them right now make decisions. My class is pretty practical, where I’m talking about how crop physiology is related to production aspects. With my background as a field agronomist, I run into a lot of problems. So, I have “problems of the day”, called PODs. I show a situation and ask the students, what are the symptoms, what questions do you need to ask the producers, and what’s your diagnosis. I think they like to see that because it’s something they can utilize immediately. When they go out on summer internships or back to the farm in the summer, they can use those problem-solving skills right away. We spend 10-15 minutes daily on these PODs before I start lecturing and they go to sleep. But kidding aside, my goal is to help them become problem solvers and life-long learners.
CSSA: Are the characters in the book based on people in your life?
Shroyer: Farmer Tom is my brother. Mika (Michaela) is my granddaughter. Grandma Helen is my mother. The cat and the dog were pets I had growing up. And because my sister, who is an OSU agronomy grad, got mad at me because she wasn’t in the first book, in the upcoming books she’s in them, as well as a few neighbors. And in the words of Jimmy Buffet- this is a semi-true story!
CSSA: Who provided illustrations for the book?
Shroyer: Rita Kraushaar. She’s a local artist. The illustrator and author don’t always have the same vision, but she did a very good job with the book. I’ve had a lot of compliments about the illustrations so far. I think she’s onboard for the next two.
CSSA: What do you want readers to take away from the book?
Shroyer: I think it’s a cute little story about the effect farm animals have on farm life, from a child’s perspective. It gives a little window into farm life. Everybody can tell stories about growing up. And my stories are about farm life.
CSSA: When you’re not teaching or dealing with the book, what do you do for fun?
Shroyer: Outside of family things, birding is probably my favorite thing. Also, we spend a lot of time traveling, which entails a lot of hiking and bird watching as well. But, I’ve got to admit, my job as an extension agronomist is pretty darn fun. I’m able to work with county extension agents and farmers across the state. And as a teacher I’m training a new generation of agronomists. Heck, you can’t beat that!
CSSA: What’s next for Holly?
Shroyer: Self-publishing isn’t quite as glamorous as you might think. And it’s a little more costly than you might think. With this book, I’m trying to make enough money to cover my costs for this book and pay for the illustrations for the next book. So I’m hoping we can get started on the next book, Holly Holstein: Holly Runs Awayt, in the next few months. Farmer Tom leaves the gate open in that story, and Holly makes a run for it. In the third book, Holly goes to the county fair. But, if the first Holly book doesn’t sell too well, Holly might find herself on a truck to the packing plant.
And I’m also working on Cows in the House, a rhyming story with my youngest son, David. And we are talking with the illustrator now.
If you’d like to purchase a copy of The Adventures of Holly Holstein: Holly Greets the World, you can order it online from Amazon or Barnes and Noble, or you can contact Jim Shroyer at firstname.lastname@example.org.