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In hockey terms, Bobby Orr has moved up to a primary assist with the book, Bobby Orr and the Hand-Me-Down Skates, as he's listed as co-author with Kara Kootstra. The previous two books the pair worked on, The Boy in Number Four, and Jay Versus the Saxophone of Doom, Orr was the secondary assist, though no less key to the goal.
The idea for the Orr-assisted kids books actually came about when #4 published his autobiography, Orr: My Story, in 2013. In that case, it was Vern Stenlund—Kootstra's father—that served as ghostwriter for Orr.
So the family is tight with the legendary defenceman.
Orr knew that Kootstra had an interest in trying to write books for kids. She'd been a piano teacher for 25 years, and now had two daughters of her own. Orr asked for an idea, and Kootstra delivered.
For the picture book The Boy in Number Four, Orr provided an afterword, but was essentially a consultant on the process. Kootstra said he provided “some yeas and nays along the way.” That process repeated for the second book, which is a chapter book.
The question presents itself, why is Bobby Orr targeting young readers?
“It's so interesting you ask that,” said Kootstra, gathering her thoughts. “Obviously he knows hockey—no one knows hockey like Bobby Orr, and, obviously has that draw, where people are going to want to purchase a book from him. But he definitely needed a little bit of help in terms of how we can make this relatable to kids.”
She said that the game of hockey “is really at the heart of him,” and that he's grown frustrated by how competitive hockey has become at a younger level, parents having unrealistic NHL dreams for their kids, driving some of the fun out of the game.
“He wants to get that message across. But, also, you have to do it in a way where a kid's going to want to pick up the book and read it,” said Kootstra. “That was kind of our back and forth, we can't put in too many facts and ... it can't be preachy, we have to just try to get that through a story. So that was a give and take.”
Kootstra knew she and Bobby found the right mix with Bobby Orr and the Hand-Me-Down Skates, as her father is unable to finish the book without tearing up, the simple tale of getting a pair of skates being such a universal experience to his generation.
“I think it's almost more for the parents and the grandparents reading it to the kids and the grandkids,” she said. “When my dad reads this book, he can't make it to the end without crying because it's that nostalgic. He's like, 'This is the way it was when I was a kid playing hockey.' That, to me, is the real market.”
Do kids today know who Bobby Orr is?
“I've done a few school visits. I love doing those. And obviously, it's a different landscape right now [with COVID-19], so it will probably be a while before we get back into that. But yes, so many kids know who Bobby Orr is. And I think that he is someone who is just so beloved—to parents and grandparents, that was their hockey hero. And so that's something that has definitely passed to the next generation. And to be honest, I was a little bit shocked. I wasn't sure if this generation would know the name, but most almost all the kids that are into hockey, they know of the name ... some of them knew stats and everything. I was absolutely floored.”
Getting to market is easier when associated with perhaps the greatest player ever to play the game. Kootstra knows she got lucky, but has also put in the hours, gotten better at her craft, and has earned the spot on the shelves.
“Obviously, I am tickled pink to be associated with Bobby and to have him help me in this way. And honestly, Bobby Orr could have had any author he wanted to write these books, and he chose to help me get started in this industry,” she said. “I am forever grateful for that for that opportunity.”
BRING ON BASSETT
After working with Gilles Gratton on his autobiography and learned some wild Toronto Toros stories, and having thoroughly enjoyed Jeff Pearlman's epic Football for a Buck: The Crazy Rise and Crazier Demise of the USFL, where one Donald Trump was the fool who brought down the league, I know that I'm ready for the upcoming John Bassett biography—where that will be covered and more. It's full title is The Life and Teams of Johnny F. Bassett: Maverick Entrepreneur of Football, Hockey and Tennis, and it's being produced by McFarland Publishing. Denis Crawford is writing it, and noted on Facebook that the publication date is still unknown. “This book represents ten years of hard work but also the generosity and friendship of Mr. Bassett’s family: Sue Bassett-Klauber, John Bassett, Vicky Bassett, Carling Bassett-Seguso, and Heidi Bassett-Blair. Thanks to them and my wife Amy, it never felt like a job,” wrote Crawford on Facebook. “Will share the release date as soon as I know so you can all discover the story of this fascinating man and the wonderful and imaginative teams he founded.”
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