A San Diego author is sharing his passion for writing fantasy and fairytales with school children across Southern California. He started a book series for young readers that features characters who are daring and diverse in every way.
John Wells III is a man on a mission to make sure every student has the opportunity to discover their true identities.
On a recent visit to Harvest Hill STEAM Academy in Riverside County, Wells was wearing a backpack and pulling a wagon loaded with boxes of his books.
He traveled the halls of the campus that has 1,300 students in TK through eighth-grade. His first stop was a third-grade classroom, where he started his storytelling with an unexpected personal confession.
“I hated reading! I hated it," he proclaimed to the class where many of them gasped in surprise.
Wells went on to explain how that changed after he attended his first book fair in elementary school. That's when he found fantasy, the genre that inspired him most.
His presentation included another surprise about his childhood.
“I did tell my classmates in the third grade that I had powers … superpowers!”
He never lost those superpowers in his imagination, eventually motivating him to start writing as a young adult in college.
There’s something else the author wants students to know. He is part of the BIPOC community. BIPOC stands for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. He desperately wanted to see himself represented in the pages of the books he read.
"I’d always seen those characters as the best friend, the comic relief, even the villain sometimes, but never as the hero," Wells said.
Wells began writing the Kalib Andrews Chronicles as the COVID-19 pandemic proceeded in 2020. In the first book "The Last Angel Warrior," readers are introduced to the hero, Kalib, a 16-year-old adopted, bi-racial teenager struggling with his identity. Now, there are two more books in the series.
Wells reads to children who can see themselves in his stories.
“It is so important for us to continue to stand out and stand up and show the world that, 'Hey, we’re here, we matter, our stories matter, our representation matters,'” he said.
The message was being received by students on this visit. Kreed Abrams, 9, said, “Books like these inspire me to do different things, and think about it a little bit more.”
Jada Brooks, 9, is another third grader who sees herself in the pages of "The Angel Warrior."
“I like that part in the book where they find this stranger in the dark alley. It kind of adds up and gives the book a little something-something," she said.
Wells has another four books planned for the Kalib Chronicles series, and he’s adding more diversity in characters. That will also include another letter from the alphabet.
“Q …stands for queer…so queer…Black, Indigenous, People of Color,” he said.
Harvest Hill STEAM Academy is home to students of several ethnic and economic backgrounds. They are also survivors of the COVID-19 shutdowns and learning loss. Principal Phil Suttner agrees that escape through fantasy books helps in healing.
“A lot of our kids suffered greatly during that time. Not just from the seclusion and being out of school, but a lot of them endured trauma. They lost loved ones and they had a lot of things happen to them that shouldn’t happen to kids," Suttner said.
Wells is happy to help in the healing through his series of books that will end in a meaningful way.
“I won’t call it happy. I won’t call it sad. But, I will say that the ending that is planned is the ending that the story requires," Wells said.