By DEVIN HEILMAN
COEUR d’ALENE — Baby dinosaurs. Sasquatch. Albino squirrels.
Pretty much everything children's author Kelly Milner Halls presented to Fernan STEM Academy students on Friday was received with amazement, amusement and awe.
"I like how she likes wildness. I really like it, too," said second-grader Payson Shaw. "It really helps me think critical."
Critical thinking was at the core of Halls' critter-centric presentations, which were based on zoology, cryptozoology and mysteries of the natural and supernatural world. Her goal was to plant the seeds of curiosity that would sprout into hunger for knowledge and appetites for accuracy.
"When I do research, it's like playing a video game," she said to the second-graders. "Gamers are the most determined kids on the planet. They are also the best problem-solvers because you cannot beat a video game if you don't solve problems and you don't stick to it."
Halls is the author of more than 30 books, several nonfiction, that range in topic from animal rescue stories and wild horses to astronauts and science-fair projects. She has been a fan of unusual subjects since she was young and started her writing career studying journalism.
"When I was a kid I used to sit on my dad’s lap and watch weird documentaries. We’d watch Loch Ness monster and Bigfoot and space documentaries,” she said. "My dad was a very conservative Republican guy but he was accepting, he allowed me to develop whatever my interests were.
“He would say, ‘Let’s look at the evidence,’” she continued. “So I grew up hungry, making him insane, my mom insane asking 10 million questions, making my teachers crazy. Then I realized if I am a journalist, it’s my job to ask questions. It was the perfect place for me."
Halls then began writing for kids, giving her an avenue to share that craving for knowledge and love of the strange and unknown with young readers.
She brought a few visual aides to embellish her Fernan presentations, including alleged Bigfoot plaster prints and a white Sasquatch-like mask from the early days of "Star Trek." One lucky student, Parker Parisot, got to put the mask on for a moment and laugh along with her schoolmates.
“I loved her presentation," Parker said. “It felt really weird when I put on the mask."
Halls' author visit was made possible through the Meet the Author! Be An Author! grant Title I reading specialist Shelby Randklev received from the Excel Foundation. Halls is the third author to visit through this program.
"A lot of our students have never met a real author before, so this was to get them excited about reading and becoming a writer and becoming a thinker," Randklev said. "What I wanted with Kelly was nonfiction and just examining your evidence — what's real, what's not? — and to think critically about the things you read and the things you see and compare multiple views to come up with an educated opinion."
Toward the end of Hall's session with the second-graders, she reminded them they are capable of "digging deep" into whatever subjects they care about and maybe someday carrying on the torch as writers of the weird.
"Do I seem like a rocket scientist, or do I seem like a weird old grandma who likes to look up facts?" she asked the vocal crowd. "You understand that you can do this too? It's a great job. You have to do weird stuff. I had to dig up a T-Rex once. One time, I had to go swimming with the dolphins. One time I had to do indoor skydiving, and one time I had to pet baby polar bears. Think about doing my job.
"You are the next writers. What you care about is important."