It was August of 2019, and I was feverishly working on my TEDxKitchenerEd Talk. It was a bucket list item for me to do a TED Talk, and getting to speak about The Personal Playlist Project and Podcast made it very, well, personal. I was deep into the final month of preparations when Avi Glina reached out. Avi knew that I did a lot of writing and that I had children’s books published (under my maiden name). He was hoping I could write a story about something that happened on his ranch. I was amused by the idea but hyper-focused on my upcoming speaking event. I did a rare thing and said, “I’m sorry, I can't right now.” The following week, TEDxKitchenerEd was postponed.
I was devastated when they postponed the event, especially because we didn’t find out that there was a new date for a while. I had all this creative energy flowing, and I didn’t know what to do with it. I decided to take a look at the still images that Avi has sent and just consider what story I could write from these. The way Avi had explained it, he and his brother Barry, who co-own a ranch in North Eastern Ontario, had lost a peacock. They have many animals on the ranch, but this particular animal escaped its enclosure and was gone without a trace. The following year, on the ranch’s trail cam, they caught a glimpse of what appeared to be the peacock leading a pack of wild turkeys. There was a story in there, for sure, so I began wondering.
This led me to do some quick research on peacocks and wild turkeys. I was surprised to learn that peacocks shake their vibrant and famous feathers to produce a sound. I was also intrigued to learn that peacocks were the name of the males of the special and that females were called peahens. Among other research, I discovered that wild turkeys, too, make sounds including cutt, keekee, gobble and yelp. The story began to unfold in my mind. There would be a band called The Wild Turkeys, named for each sound, but how would the peacocks fit into the story? I continued with my research but all of these new discoveries became part of the book.
The animal kingdom can be so cruel to those who are different. I learned that the plume of the peacock is essential for their lives and the survival of their species. Peacocks use their plumes for mating rituals, and the size and colors they are really mean something. The enchanting and iridescent feathers are for more than enjoyment and style. Their hypnotic fan is key to attracting mates, and an imperfect plume could mean no mates for a peacock. I knew what I had to do. I had to write a story about a rejected peacock who found that there was more to him than the coveted features of his flock.
I started to write about Pete the peacock. I always begin with alliteration; it’s just a thing I do. I imagined the story and decided that Pete’s feathers wouldn't be as thick or as bold as his siblings’. Then, I started wondering about how else that would impact Pete. I was explaining the evolving story to a friend and told her that Pete has difficulties making his music because of his physical differences from the rest of his species, I explained that he strummed his plume instead of shaking it. That was it! I had to get off the phone, pull my card over and write. His name and the rest of the story unfolded from there.
Avi and Barry were going to self-publish the story that they loved, but I had fallen in love with the plot, characters, themes, and what I could do with it in a classroom. I wanted it to get into schools and in the hands of kids across the globe. Friends of the brothers also thought it was a good idea, so I was asked to write a bible which is something film makers use to see if a story has a life cycle. As a teacher gone educational consultant working on kids tv shows, Stacie Goldin was brought onto the team to help me do just that. She and I had a lot of fun co-writing this bible, which was enhanced by our trip to the ranch. I drove an ATV through trails, and we ideated possible stories. We were having a lot of fun imagining what was possible with these characters in the incredible natural setting. Near the end of our tour of the property, we found two wild turkey feathers lying on the path in front of us. Something felt so right about each of us getting to take a feather home as a momento, and mine has grounded me many times in the process of developing this book. I also saw it as a sign that we were meant to do this.
When it came time to find an illustrator, Stacie put a call out to her community. She was connected to many creatives, and we had a lot of artists apply. The only one all of us agreed on was Alana McCarthy. Her brilliant and vivid use of colour was the first attraction, but getting to work with her on the characters and the development of the map showed me a lot. Beyond being a gifted artist, Alana is a truly creative collaborator. She worked with me for several weeks to try to get Strum right. Even with a written description, she encouraged me to make a Pinterest board. Since that is not quite my thing, I sent her Google Slides with a collage of inspiration for each character.
Alana worked with me, and it was awesome. Strum was channeled through images of Finn Wolfard and Timothy Chalamet. It took a bit, but once she nailed Strum, the rest was poetry. She shared Cutt and then Gobble, and everything was coming together. Her drawing of Keekee was truly inspired, and they are her favourite in the band. Yelp needed some minor changes because I wanted her to look like Stevie Nicks. How Alana achieved all of this was incredible to witness. Then, Alana came with her family for a tour of the ranch, and she sketched the map of the grounds that would come to be an essential part of this book and any others that may come. Alana’s drawing skills made this story even better.
During this time, I asked the Glina brothers if I could send the book to a publisher. Getting a children's book published is a difficult feat, and although I was excited that they wanted to self-publish, I wanted this book about inclusion and belonging in an educational context. I was so lucky that Sarah at EduMatch said yes. She was the only one I sent it to because I love their educational for us by us ethos. I am thrilled to be finishing up the website section titled For Grownup so that educator, parents, and caregivers can see the many ways Strum and the Wild Turkeys can support students in their self-discovery, deepen their self-esteem, see the difference as something that makes them unique, and use this book as a learning catalyst across grade levels and subject areas. Strum and The Wild Turkeys is a book that modeled the power of a team in its creation, and I can’t wait to see what we can do with what we’ve started.
Check out www.strumandthewildturkeys.com
Noa Daniel, MEd
Noa Daniel MEd is a classroom teacher in the York Region District School Board outside Toronto, Canada. Through her consulting work at Building Outside the Blocks she creates personalizing projects and initiatives for schools, boards, and communities. Noa is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of The Mentoree. She is also a blogger, a children’s book author, and podcaster. Noa’s children’s books include Crazy for Canada, Old Timers: The One That Got Away, and her newest, Strum and The Wild Turkeysthrough EduMatch Publishing. Noa hosts OnEdMentors on voicEd Radio and the former show, The Personal Playlist Podcast. She is also a TEDx and keynote speaker. As a board member of Learning Forward Ontario, Noa strives to contribute to meaningful professional learning opportunities for educators. All of Noa’s work amplifies voice and propels engagement for learners of all ages. She is always building outside the blocks.