Retired Revere teacher writes a forest fable

by Donna Apidone

Leave it to a former third-grade teacher to deliver life lessons in a fascinating package.

Michael Schauer spent his entire public school career teaching in the Revere Local School District. Schauer, 68, lives in Cuyahoga Falls and retired after 30 years.

He begins his book,“The Lost Hamsters of Barnaby Bunch,” with an intriguing sentence:

“His hands were cold and stiff as he fumbled with the key to unlock the door.”

That opening line introduces Barnaby Bunch, but the stars of the book are the animals in his care. They range from silly to wise, and they come in all colors and shapes. Hamsters and canaries, otters and rats work together to combat the evil wolf king and his ilk. They speak in a variation of pirate English, and they are all in for adventures that make the world a better place.

“I have always been fascinated with the personification of animals,” Schauer said. “‘Stuart Little,’ ‘Aesop’s Fables,’ ‘Charlotte’s Web,’ ‘Watership Down,’ ‘The Book of the Dun Cow,’ and thousands of other stories have always used animals in allegories, parables and apologues to convey a message or moral. Also, I love the idea that animals can sometimes appear more intelligent than humans.”

Animals aren’t just fiction to Schauer.

“My grandmother’s brother, Richard Barnhardt started the Akron Zoo, and I spent many hours at the zoo and at his house,” he said. “I loved watching cartoons with Suzy the Chimp on my lap, eating banana popsicles together (true story). The sign on the front of the zoo, The Barnhardt Family Visitor Center, is my mom’s family.”

Schauer loves to play with words. “Sometimes, even after searching a thesaurus, the word you are looking for just can’t be found,” he said. “So, the result is that you make it up. Dr. Seuss understood this.”

His made-up words in “The Lost Hamsters of Barnaby Bunch” add texture to the story.

“My five-hundred-pound canary, Paffuto was sucking in air to create a devastating chirp so he, ‘tipped his head back and swallowed a gulptuous amount of air.’ The word ‘gulptuous’ doesn’t need to be explained … [it’s] explained through context,” said Schauer.

Schauer has fun with accents, too. He lets us “hear” the voices of his characters through period language, and he drops in words of various origins.

“I believe that it is a good way to introduce readers to a worldview,” he said. “Hearing different expressions allows the reader to broaden their scope of understanding of how other people communicate, plus it is fun to hear new words, expressions and ideas.”

It’s those ideas that form a subtle undercurrent to this forest fable. Although Christian Faith Publishing released the book, the life lessons are not linked to a single faith tradition. They are morals that help kids navigate life.

“One lesson is the power of forgiveness. Paffuto is crippled with rage, bitterness and anger,” said Schauer. “Once he is convinced that he needed to reach deep inside himself and forgive the other canaries, he became useful and soon was elevated to hero-status.

“I [also] tried to convey the paradox that strength is found in true humility, and pride leads to weakness.”

None of the animals die in battle.

“It is not necessary to the story line,” Schauer said. “It is more important that the animals come back from their injuries in order to strengthen the plot.”

Schauer loves to see the little guy – or, in this case, hamster – win.

“I love the idea of the underdog in stories, and how characters use their cleverness to overcome the greatest of odds.”

Schauer recommends his book for ages 10 and up, although he said parents could read it aloud to kids as young as seven or eight.

“The Lost Hamsters of Barnaby Bunch” includes Parts 1 and 2 of Schauer’s series. It’s available through Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Books-a-Million, and will soon be available as an audiobook.

Schauer’s next book, with Parts 3 and 4, is not far behind. ∞

The Lost Hamster of Barnaby Bunch is available at Barnes and Noble and through Amazon. Photo submitted.

Photo (main/photo): Former Revere teacher Michael Schauer is author of a children’s book that imbeds morality in its words. Photo submitted.