Roberts tells one of his tall tales to children in a second grade
class at Blair Oaks Elementary School in Wardsville. Dannels
son Elijah, a student in the class, is the model for the narrators
character in the Me and Uncle Mike books.
If the stories in the four
Me and Uncle Mike childrens books hes published
are any indication, Dannel Roberts had an extremely exciting childhood.
Readers of the books find
Dannel and his brother Mike earning the admiration of the people of
Boston and a fine tea party to boot by capturing a pirate
ship and its band of thieves. The boys battle a crocodile and outsmart
a renegade goat who guards a bridge in the tradition of Billy Goat Gruff.
They even create the first polar bear when they defeat a marauding grizzly
and pull his insides out. Grizzlies are white on the inside, you know.
Of course, the real Dannel
and Mike did none of these things growing up near Lancaster. But their
real life adventures were exciting enough to fascinate Dannels
four children as he told stories in the living room of their home near
Sitting right here
on the couch I would tell stories that really happened, Dannel
says. I noticed that they liked stories I told more than any book
that Id read to them.
Because the children know
Dannels brother as their uncle Mike, each story began with me
and Uncle Mike. While Dannel sometimes based his stories on real
events others were pure fiction. All of them he embellished, adding
a few jokes and the occasional tall tale. When Mike heard the stories
he encouraged his brother to publish them. With the idea of funding
his childrens education, Dannel agreed as long as the two did
In 1998 Dannel and Mike mortgaged
their houses, hired an illustrator and formed their own company, Lions,
Tigers and Bears Publications. With Me and Uncle Mike and the
1-Eyed Croc which was released in November, the company now offers
four titles and more are planned.
"Me and Uncle Mike and the Pirate Ship," the second book
in the series, the narrator and his brother defeat a band of pirates
and capture their ship.
Each book begins: Back
when I was a kid, one of my best friends was Uncle Mike . . .
Each tells a fabulous tale of the two boys saving the day. Uncle Mike
always pulls a fast one to get the better of me but in every
case the narrator accomplishes an impossible feat to emerge the hero.
Along the way children reading the book learn some fanciful facts that,
of course, are not true. Finally, all the Me and Uncle Mike
books conclude with a caution to not believe everything you hear.
In Me and Uncle Mike
and the 3-Toed Bear the boys are called on to rid Montana of a
terrible grizzly that developed a taste for milk cows. When all the
best hunters fail to capture the bear Me and Uncle Mike
set out to track the animal.
They follow the bear for
26 miles across a mile-wide river and over the top of Mount Everest.
After two hours of hard tracking they find their prey. Their slingshots
only wake the ferocious bear and the two must flee for their lives.
At the very last second me remembers the old Osage
Indian inside-out bear trick, reaches his hand down the animals
throat and pulls its tail out his mouth, revealing the white fur inside.
If that story isnt
tall enough, the startled bear runs all the way to Alaska and starts
a family. Later a lost Christopher Columbus arrives asking for directions.
When the explorer asks about the white bears hes told they are
puller bears. He hears polar bears and the rest is history.
Its a ridiculous tale
but entertaining every step of the way. You watch the kids when
you read these stories and theyre mesmerized, the Three
Rivers Electric Cooperative member says.
While the first book was
a hit with nearly everyone who read it, Dannel and Mikes enterprise
was not an immediate success. They convinced on-line bookseller Amazon.com
to carry the title but sales were disappointing. If nobodys
heard of you they dont buy, says Dannel, who designs computer
software when not telling tall tales.
Dannel found greater success
through book signing appearances in stores and by reading to children
in area schools.
Knowing nothing about
the book industry we sold a couple thousand books, he says. That
may not seem like many but weve learned a lot.
After nearly three years
learning the business, the brothers published three more books in the
past year, each illustrated by a different artist. Like the first installment,
the new books contain exploits that would make Paul Bunyan or Pecos
an illustration by Brenda Nichols from Me and Uncle Mike and
Billy Goat Bob the boys borrow a disguise from a wolf in sheeps
While the original illustrators
children served as models for the adventuresome siblings in the first
book, the newer episodes feature likenesses of Dannels own boys,
Elijah and Caleb. Other members of the Roberts family including
Dannel and his brother Mike make appearances as well.
Each of the books contains
subtle references and details that are easily overlooked. Me and
Uncle Mike and the Pirate Ship is ripe with references to rock
music while Me and Uncle Mike and Billy Goat Bob has a tiny
mouse that appears every time the goat is shown and an even tinier green
snake which pursues the mouse. Every book includes the phrase Show
me in honor of Missouri and the exclamation Oh my!
a reference to Lions, Tigers and Bears Publications.
Even adults dont
see everything in there until they read them three or four times,
Dannels hope is that parents will read the books over and over
again. In particular, he says, hed like dads to read to their
kids. If Dad likes to read them, guess what? Dad will read more
Dannel says the rough and
tumble Ozarks style of his stories should appeal to dads and kids alike.
If what hes hearing from parents is true, his approach is working.
One parent told Dannel their
son liked reading Me and Uncle Mike and the 3-toed Bear
at the doctors office so much the child would feign sickness just
to spend time in the waiting room. The parents bought a copy of the
book but eventually tired of reading it. When they hid the book away
in a closet the child went to the library and checked it out himself.
While that may sound like
another of Dannels tall tales he swears its true. Of course
he says the same thing about the puller bears.
In any case, Dannel seems
to have found a market for his homespun tales of adventure. While hes
yet to turn a profit hes sure he will.
These stories have
some kind of magic. I dont know what it is but people like them,
Excerpts from the books
can be found on-line at www.meandunclemike.com.
Order the Me and Uncle Mike Adventure Series from your local bookseller,
the Web site or call 1-866-628-6463.