Sometime in 2017 my editor at Macmillan Publishing proposed the idea of a Tractor Mac back-to-school story. I really liked the idea and started to thresh out some ideas. Should the story be about Tractor Mac going to school? What would he study? Soil science or modern tilling practices and advances in crop production? It didn’t sound like a fun story. Then I started playing around with the school bus character who would become “Betty.” I drew upon the angst I always felt on the first day of school. New teachers, new rules, new classmates, it was exciting and worrisome at the same time. My wife Julie and I hashed out a skeleton story line and I went to work on the storyboard. In the book, Betty the new school bus does not have a good first day of school. She misses some of her stops, gets lost on her route, and doesn’t know the procedures once she does get to school. She doesn’t want to go back to school, a lament I’ve heard from all my kids at least once in their school years. Tractor Mac and his friends come up with some innovative ways to help her out.
The other busses in the books are all named for teachers I had growing up. Besides my folks, I have my teachers to thank for who I am today. I’m thankful for their patience and commitment in helping a different learner like me actually learn things. “Ernie” the bus was named for our school bus driver who always drove us for away swim meets and field trips. Another vehicle character you’ll see in this book is “Albert” the milk truck. Albert is based on a friend who used to drive the milk tanker that would go around to the local dairies and haul the milk to be processed.
I particularly enjoyed creating the map in this book. I studied cartography while in college, so I’ve always loved a good map. Some of the roads are from my home town and some are made up. “O.B. Joyful Road” and “Kris Kross Court” are nods to my editor, Joy, and art director respectively. The blast furnace ruins, (Mine Hill), farm stand, (Maple Bank Farm), and school, (Booth Free Elementary School), can all be found in my town. The farms and airstrip pictured in the map can also be found here. “Keely Court” is named for my dog.
As you may know, I like to include an illustration of an animal that appears on every page of my books. For this book, it was fun to include a little lamb on every page except for a scene that flashes back to a time before Betty the Bus and the little lamb had met. “…she followed her to school one day.” Get It?
I like the take away from the story. Mistakes are how we learn and it’s how we resolve these mistakes that makes us who we are.