Isreal Hicks Jr. had trouble learning when he first went to school. He remembers that, for the first six months, he tried to hide in plain sight in the classroom. He was hoping the teacher would not call his name.
When Hicks saw that his son Isreal III was having some of the same challenges when he was about to enter kindergarten, he knew that he had to do his best to make his son’s school experience different from—and better than—his own.
He enlisted help. He found out from a teacher about the Dolch word list. In 1948, Edward Dolch prepared a list of 220 words in a publication called Problems in Reading. Dolch maintained that students should learn those words before entering Grade 1.
Hicks added 80 words to the list and worked with his son all summer, reading and showing him the words over and over. By the time September rolled around, Isreal III knew them all.
“After the first day of school, he came home and said ‘Guess what Dad. I don’t need to go to school. I know all that stuff,’” Hicks remembers fondly.
That experience awakened a desire to try to help other young children enjoy exploring the alphabet and reading. Hicks, who grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, and spent 15 years in the U.S. Navy after finishing school, started to create cartoon characters with unique names, representing each letter of the alphabet. They begin with A-Guy, B-Box and C-Corp. He also began to write books, all the while working and running a small business.
He created the Alphabet Heroes and came up with initial drawings. He then enlisted the help of various artists from the Art Institute of Seattle, beginning with Daniel Weaver. They have helped refine those drawings and the characters. Hicks has continued to develop the characters and explore various ways that he can get the Heroes into the hands of teachers, parents and children.
He formed a company called EnterPlay Media, and created Alphabet Heroes posters. At his own expense, he printed 5,000 of them. He was able to set up a working relationship with a Costco store in Marysville, Washington. Non-profit educational groups sold his posters at the store for donations to various school groups, including the Lakewood School District.
The project’s potential was growing, but it did not go as far as he had hoped at the time. There were two reasons – love and location. Hicks met and married a Canadian teacher, Adelaine Hicks, a longtime educator in the Richmond school district. He moved to Canada about four years ago. They now live in Cloverdale.
Moving to a new country and getting settled slowed down the Alphabet Heroes’ progress, but it did not stop Hicks from wanting to develop the concept further. He has continued to work with artists from the Art Institute to make the Alphabet Heroes more visually appealing, and he is exploring ways to get the concept out to young students.
“I’m on the fourth generation of characters,” he said.
The Reporter visited him at his home studio on Nov. 9, while he was busy working on the characters and with an artist via email.
He wants to work with the Surrey school district and B.C. ministry of education to make his Alphabet Heroes concept available in local schools. He believes it allows young children to have “a personal relationship with letters of the alphabet,” by making them come alive through a series of characters. This in turn encourages them to learn to read.
Hicks has also wrote, illustrated and published a book called Railroad Joe: The Sight Word Train which has achieved success. He has just finished another book, Harry Rat and the Zoonami Kingdom, which is ready for publication. Both have plenty of appealing characters which children love to learn more about.
Hicks is more interested in spreading the idea and helping children to learn to read than in profiting from his creations. He envisions working with the ministry and the district and having proceeds from the sale of books and posters go directly to them. He also suggests that corporations could get involved in distributing Alphabet Heroes items to customers, employees and investors.
He believes that there is enough potential from Alphabet Heroes to raise money and help pay for significant educational costs, and thus improve resources available in schools.
“Alphabet Heroes could be a commodity tool that helps fund education,” he said. “If you can help a child succeed, you get paid. My satisfaction is to see a child succeed.”
He describes the development and evolution of Alphabet Heroes “as the most fun I ever had in my life.”
For more about the Alphabet Heroes concept, see www.thealphabetheroes.com.