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Pay It Forward: Super Hero Author

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ARLINGTON, Va. -

How much of a difference can a teacher make in a child's life? The answer can be found in this Pay It Forward story.

This is indeed a story about one thing a teacher said that shaped a person's future. But it's also a story about perspective -- focusing on what you can do instead of what you can't. And then when you find your path, you help others do the same.

There is a certain driveway in Arlington where pickup basketball games are a regular thing. And more often than not, 44-year-old Gary Karton is captaining the fun.

But it's not the only team sport in the neighborhood for which he is the ringleader.

Welcome to a brainstorming session for Gary's latest book. He is looking for ideas for part two of his trilogy -- a pre-teen fiction fantasy called The Last Akaway.

“It's really the story of a 12-year-old kid who gets all the powers of every animal and he has to lead an adventure with his friends to save this animal called the Last Akaway,” Gary said.

Getting input from children is what Gary believes was the key to his first book's success.

“I knew that if I had a book that kids liked, that they would read and thought was fun, then I could be confident and just keep working with that,” he said.

The story idea originated from a birthday party for his son Brody. The theme is centered around a deck of spirit animal cards given to Brody by his grandmother.

Let's just say the plot paid off. The Last Akaway has sold 4,000 copies and won two prestigious literary awards. The irony of it all is that this writer has difficulty reading.

He told us, “When I was in third grade, I got pulled out of a reading class, which of course was embarrassing, and the teacher pulled me aside and she said, ‘Do you know what a learning disability is?'"

"I said, ‘No,’ and she said, ‘It's a gift.’ And she said you learn things differently and you see things differently than most people, but different is good.”

And so differently was how Gary went about things when writing papers. Instead of researching in a library, he found experts to interview.

“The teachers thought it was the greatest thing in the world,” said Gary. “I would get great grades and the teachers were like, ‘Original research, it's amazing.’ And I'd say, ‘Oh yeah, original research, that's what I'm all about.’”

Nonetheless, his ability to do original research is what led to his first job as a sports reporter for the Washington Post. He has had other great jobs since, but writing for children is the ultimate. That is until he started speaking to them.

“I will be totally honest with you guys. Any question you ask me, I will tell you the truth. And if I ask you guys a question, you tell me the truth too. Is that a fair deal?”

On this day, Gary is talking with kids from the Oakwood School in Annandale.

“We work with students who have learning challenges,” said Lane McIntyre, Associate Director of Oakwood School. “They're very bright. They have an immense potential, but they're not learning in a typical learning environment.”

In other words, these kids are just like Gary was. And just like his third grade teacher told him, he's paying it forward and telling them they too have a gift.

“Number one: being different is good,” he told the kids. “It took me a long time to realize it, but I am 100 percent positive being different is the coolest thing in the world.”

“Anytime we have someone come in who can really understand our kids, you can see a tangible difference, and not everybody really gets our kids,” said McIntyre.

But Gary gets them and they get Gary.

“He told us that being different is good because you're not like everybody else,” said 9-year-old Maeve Murphy. “Because if everything was the same, it would just be same old, same old.”

“Number two: every kid has special powers,” said Gary.

“Not real super powers, but it's in your heart,” said 10-year-old Kemal Brockman.

“And the third thing is this: I promise you guys can do anything that you can imagine,” said Gary.

That includes reading. You just have to find the right book.

I encourage you to get the book The Last Akaway for your kids. It's a great read. You can pick it up at a bookstore or Amazon.

And if you would like Gary to come and speak at your school, I encourage that too. He really is impressive and inspirational. All the information is on his website at http://brodyboondoggle.com/.

And if know of someone that is paying it forward, let us know about them. You can nominate them on our Pay It Forward page.

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