When children's book author Kentrell Martin gets to the part about the American Sign Language (ASL) sign for alligators in his book readings, kids in Gainesville already have that one down.
On Saturday, Martin will read to kids from one of his award winning Shelly's Adventures, a children's book series that introduces ASL to kids—from the gator chomp to the sign for cats, snakes and other animals. The event starts at 11 a.m. at the A. Quinn Jones Museum and Cultural Center (AQJ) and is sponsored by the AQJ, the City of Gainesville and 352Arts.
Martin, 39, is a product of Alachua County Public Schools, first as a student at Lake Forest and Lincoln schools and eventually as a graduate of Eastside High School. He went on to play basketball for Santa Fe College before he transferred to the University of New Orleans to pursue his degree in business management.
Kentrell learned ASL growing up with his older deaf brother, Kennith Martin. Since going full-time as an author six years ago, he has traveled across the United States and as far as Greece to present his books to audiences.
He has sold more than 35,000 book copies, averages 130 readings a year at schools, and is turning his books into live action plays that will tour the country.
He said the key to his success has been in creating a well-developed character.
"You have to get to know your character as a real person," Martin said via phone interview from Tampa.
Martin will read "Shelly Goes to the Zoo" on Saturday, but other books in the series explore going to the bank, basketball practice, and making friends at the children's hospital.
Martin's wife and kids are all involved in co-authoring books in the series.
Now that the pandemic has ended, Martin said he is booking readings again and putting his plan for a live action play upfront in growing his goal of teaching ASL and life lessons to the next generation.
He said he will be casting the plays soon as he has already decided on a student from UF's P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School to play Shelly.
"Once we get the cast, the original plan was to launch the play in Gainesville," Martin said. "But the now plan is to start in Miami and then start renting out theaters, paying actors and bring the traveling production to Gainesville after that happens."
Martin said he knows his books about Shelly are making a difference because of the feedback he receives from schools and teachers after he does a book event.
"I get reviews from teachers about how the kids are signing for the rest of the day," he said. "And a lot of schools started sign language clubs."
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