SALT LAKE CITY— During basketball season, Deseret News sports writer Eric Woodyard is constantly on the road for his job covering the Utah Jazz. One night he'll be in New York; the next, Atlanta. And when he's not traveling, he's working in the Deseret News offices in Salt Lake — all of which keeps him busy, and largely away from his Flint, Michigan, hometown. But he still manages to make time — and this month, a book — for his son.
“I'm a father. My son Ethan Woodyard is about to turn 5 on March 25, and me and his mom (Sharonda Jones, who is also from Flint) were thinking of something special to do for him,” Woodyard said in a recent interview. “Being from Flint, I don't know any little kids who’ve had a children's book (made for them). … That's the biggest thing — I don't care if we sell one book. I just want to see his face.”
To pay tribute to their son and hometown, Woodyard and Jones collaborated on a children’s book with characters that “looked like” their son, Woodyard said, and their goal was to accurately portray Flint’s “predominantly African American community” while inspiring Ethan to try new things.
“Ethan’s Talent Search” incorporates real-world figures from Ethan’s life, including his cousins, friends and family in Flint. Illustrator Shelby Baxter is also a Flint native, making the book a true community project. “Ethan’s Talent Search” will be published on Ethan’s birthday, March 25 on Amazon and Kindle.
“(Ethan’s) been into books forever, and he loves basketball — he loves sports, period,” Woodyard said about the project. “He's very family oriented, he loves his cousins, he loves his friends. … Me and his mom thought it would be fun to collaborate on a project to give him something from both of us. I think that's unique because … you don't see a lot of minority books. It's … an opportunity for (kids from Flint) to see people that look like themselves."
Woodyard and Jones were serious about their idea to recreate Ethan’s world in a book, including the field house where he and his friends play sports.
“Even (on) the cover, Berston Field House is an actual place in Flint — it's a landmark,” Woodyard said.
Following a classic children’s book structure, the story covers Ethan’s search for personal talent as he tries — and fails — at many activities in a funny, well-rhymed adventure.
“It's about a kid and how he is finding his talent by finding out what he's not good at,” Woodyard said. “There's many different layers to it: Not giving up, not quitting, having parents who encourage you not to quit. And even if you're not good at something, that don't mean you're not good — you can still have integrity about yourself.”1 comment on this story
Although Woodyard lives apart from his son, he visits Flint once a month and FaceTimes with Ethan “up to six or seven times a day." The book was one way for Woodyard to show his son that both of his parents are involved in his life, regardless of their circumstances.
“There’s … (a stereotype) with young black parents — this shows you don't have to have, you know, baby mama drama and things like that,” Woodyard said. “Having kids out of wedlock, that’s not ideal. But you can still be on the same page and do great things for your kid.”