It is not the easiest thing in the world to capture the attention of a big crowd of fourth graders for more than an hour, but Harvey Oyer, author of “The Last Egret,” made it look easy Thursday morning at Heron Heights Elementary in Parkland.
Not long after he had finished taking students, School Board member Robin Bartleman, and teachers on a trip into the life of Charlie Pierce, the main character in his book, an inquisitive student asked, “Why did you write this book?”
Oyer pounced on the question, almost as if he was waiting for it. “I love Florida; I am passionate about it,” he said. “I decided to write a cool story that will teach you everything that you need to know about Florida and the environment.”
The book, Oyer said, has a “very powerful” message. “It talks about conservation. Our generation hasn’t done a great job of taking care of Mother Earth. I want you to grow up and take good decisions. I want your generation to take care of the environment better than we have done.”
Macey Feller, a fourth grader, is one of the fans of the book. “I enjoyed learning about the Everglades and following Charlie Pierce’s journey. It was great to see the author and to listen to him as he spoke about the book. Charlie is great; I would have loved to meet him.”
The book, recently adopted into Broward School curriculum, is now part of the social studies supplemental curriculum for fourth graders. Every school in the county now has the book, thanks to the efforts of book costs underwriters Broward conservationist Ron Bergeron, Wells Fargo and the Batchelor Foundation.
Heron Heights was chosen as the venue for the official launch as it is the first “green” school in the county. “We are trying to get our students to be aware about protecting the environment,” Kenneth King, principal, said. “The book fits right into our plans. Our kids love it because they can relate to Charlie and the other characters. The teachers are excited about teaching it.”
“We distributed the books to our fourth-grade teachers three weeks ago,” Celia Marino, reading coach at the school, said. “They read the book to students while the kids made Powerpoint presentations and did science experiments. The kids explained their projects to the author earlier today; it was awesome.”
The book, written in 2010 and the second in the adventures of Charlie Pierce series, is based on stories passed down through five generations. Oyer is the great-great grandson of Captain Hannibal Dillingham Pierce and Margretta Moore Pierce, who in 1872 were one of the earliest non-Native American families to settle in Southeast Florida. Charlie, the main character, is Oyer’s great-grand uncle.
“Eight percent of the book is based on facts,” Oyer said. “I got some of the stories from our grandmother who lived with us; she told us stories every night after dinner. Much of what I know is from the journal that Charlie kept. The actual diary disintegrated long time ago but the 740-page manuscript is in a museum. Charlie died in 1939 at 75; there is a school named after him in Palm Beach County.”
“Eighty percent of the book is based on facts,” Oyer, who finished writing the book in three months, said. “The actual trip to the Everglades is 100 percent true. I had to condense the time lines.”
“I enjoy interacting with students and talking about the book,” Oyer said. “When you are writing, you are stuck in a room. I have been to about 60 to 70 schools this school year. [The] Last Egret is part of the school curriculum in Martin, Monroe, Broward, Miami and Palm Beach counties. I have the third book in the series coming out in the next few months.”
Oyer, an attorney in West Palm Beach, is a Cambridge University educated archaeologist and a historian as well. “Writing books is my hobby. I don’t drink or play tennis or golf. This is what I like doing and I like to think I am impacting lives. There is enough in Charlie’s journal to write many more books. Let’s see what kind of response my third book gets.”