Fort Mill Times

When Donkeys flew to Missouri, they helped a 68-year-old man learn to read

Ginger Hodge
Ginger Hodge

As a first time children's author, Ginger Hodge never dreamed that her first book would land in the lap of an illiterate 68 year-old man in Missouri.

When Hodge, a Tega Cay resident, saw a "Pay it Forward" rerun of Oprah last fall, she was truly touched.

"It was a great show, they were doing all kinds of things. They called it 'pay it forward,'" Hodge said.

Through Oprah, Bank of America gave everyone in the audience $,1000 and one week to spend it in an effort to "pay it forward." The show included several different stories about how each person spent their money.

"One person ordered pizza and paid the guy a $300 tip," Hodge recalled.

One first-grade teacher, Alesia Hamilton, used her money to buy books for her favorite student Alferd, a 68 year-old from St. Joseph, Mo. The son of a sharecropper, he was forced to work as a child and young man instead of attending school. He turned 71 since the show first aired, and since then he met Bill Cosby and Ellen DeGeneres.

Hamilton has since been awarded Teacher of the Year.

"The story of Alferd and his teacher just really touched me," Hodge said. "Just how brave he was and how much she cared about him. And he was brave enough to go and seek out help. He did what so many people are too ashamed to do."

After watching the episode, she decided to do something that would change the path of her book forever.

"I tracked down the teacher through her school district and sent her a book to give Alferd," Hodge said. She sent her first children's book, "When Donkey's Fly," but didn't hear anything for awhile.

Then Christmas came around.

"I almost forgot about it and then Christmas Day I was sick at home and got an e-mail," Hodge said. "It was Alferd's teacher, Alesia, saying that Alferd had received the book."

In another e-mail, Hamilton told Hodge of the progress Alferd was making.

"He knows lots of the words, but has lots to figure out too," Hamilton wrote. "That makes your book a 'just right book' as we call them in first grade."

"When Donkeys Fly" is an inspirational story about a little girl who wants to do it all. She wants to play baseball, be Miss America and even President, and everyone tells her that she'll do those things, "When Donkeys Fly."

"The overall "you can do anything" message encourages all ages to believe in themselves and is especially pertinent during these tough economic times," Hodge said.

Hodge was overwhelmed by the reaction her book received.

"Gosh, I wasn't really expecting all of that, but it was such an amazing feeling that he really understood the message of the book," Hodge said. "It was really written for him and people like him who are facing things that seem impossible and face them anyway."

Though she has made pen pals with Alfred's teacher, Hodge has never met her or her now famous student in person. But she hopes to.

"Actually, I'd love to and Alesia and I have talked about it," said Hodge. "I think one day I'll go up there."

In the meantime, she's proud that her book is on Alferd's burgeoning reading list.

"I was blown away by that and honored that out of all the stuff he's gotten, he'd want to read mine," Hodge said.

"When Donkeys Fly" won the Mom's Choice Award for the most outstanding motivational inspirational book. And although it has been successful, Hodge never dreamed it would turn out like this. Now she's working on her second book.

"I was worried after this first one came out about being a one-hit wonder. But my sister and illustrator liked this second one even better," Hodge said.

Due out by the end of this year, "'When I get a Dog' is coming next," she said. "I hope to have it out in time for Christmas."

So where will this donkey fly next?

"As luck, or maybe even fate would have it, even more opportunities are coming forth from the 'Oprah Experience'" Hodge wrote in an e-mail. "I found out from a friend at CNN that the guy I sat next to in the audience at Oprah owns a pretty big PR firm called Empower."

Hodge has since spoken with him and he is interested in "putting jet engines under the donkey wings."

Alfred's donkey has flown, and it seems as though Hodge's might take flight soon as well.

For more, visit www.whendonkeysbook.com.

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