Kyle James and his mom were sitting around the kitchen table one night, talking about writing.
Takeshi James, a Chicago Public Schools principal, had just finished her first book, “From Our Eyes,” aimed at middle school students.
“He said, ‘You should write a book on teachers,’” Takeshi James recalled. “I said, ‘You should,’ He said, ‘OK.’”
That was the genesis of a new children’s book by Kyle James, a St. Rita wide receiver who is heading off to continue his academic and athletic careers at the University of Chicago this fall.
“Teacher Legion” tells the stories of teachers, custodians, lunchroom workers and others who have kept schools going during the worst pandemic in a century.
The book’s premise? All of these people are modern-day heroes. So James took a cue from pop culture and gave them their moment in the sun.
“I’ve always loved superheroes since I was a little kid,” he said. “So why not make them superheroes?”
James took the idea with him when he went off to Kairos, a three-day student retreat.
“Every night you’re away from your cell phone and social media,” he said. “I wrote the script for the book in, like, three days.”
He then worked with illustrators David Monroy and Wanda Malave to bring the characters to life. There’s Rewind, a history teacher who uses a time machine to take students back to ancient Egypt to learn about the pyramids. And there’s Gourmet Man, a lunchroom worker whose superpower is shooting food from his hands.
James worked with the same self-publishing company his mother used for her book, IngramSpark. The deal came together last December, and now “Teacher Legion” is available via Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million, among other outlets.
Last month marked another milestone: getting ahold of a physical copy.
“It wasn’t real to me till I felt the book in my hands. ‘Did I really just do this?’” he said.
He did do it, too. Takeshi James made sure of that.
“I made him go through the process himself,” she said. “It’s his work, he made the investment.”
Her influence perhaps was felt in more subtle ways over the years. During her time as principal, Takeshi James always has made sure to hold staff appreciation days as opposed to simply teacher appreciation days.
Takeshi James talked about her son’s book on a recent podcast that was made available to staff at her school. Afterward, she said, a “lunchroom manager came to my office and cried. She said, ‘You guys really have a way of making us feel loved.’”
Kyle James also has seen the impact his book has had on school personnel. His grammar school teachers are interested in getting copies and one of his St. Rita teachers already has bought one.
He received a shipment of books this week and is looking forward to getting autographed copies out soon.
Shining a light on school staffers has been a rewarding experience.
“I felt that they have been underappreciated,” he said. “If you ask a little kid what they want to be, they’ll say doctor, football player. I really wanted to put our teachers and school staff on a pedestal.”
Note: More information on “Teacher Legion” is available from James via his Twitter account: @kylexavierjame1