YORKTOWN, N.Y. – Even pirates get the blues.
“Kindergarrrten Bus,” a new children’s picture book authored by Yorktown resident Mike Ornstein, details the trials and tribulations of a pirate, his parrot, and a school bus full of kindergartners. At first, the pirate driving the bus is rough and tough on his young sailors, whose anxiety about their first day of kindergarten is heightened by the pirate’s demeanor. They long for their teddy bears and moms, which the pirate sees as a weakness.
“He tells them, ‘Pirates don’t get scared. They eat bones for supper,’” Ornstein said.
But, a bumpy ride on the way to school suddenly reveals that the pirate also has a sensitive side. When the bus hits a pothole, the pirate’s parrot, Polly, flies out of the window, but not intentionally.
The pirate, now a mess, begins to cry hysterically and is unable to drive the bus. The kids are quick to console him.
“The kids say, ‘You can do it’ and ‘Being brave is when you’re scared but you still do what you have to do,’” Ornstein said. “They basically talk him into driving the bus.”
By the end of the book—spoiler alert!—Polly flies his way back to the pirate and the kindergartners make it safely to school. When they reach their destination, the kids begin to sing: “Yo-ho-ho, to kindergarten we go. We may be scared but we’ll see it through, because a kid’s gotta do what a kid’s gotta do.”
“It’s goofy, but it’s about it being OK to be scared,” Ornstein said. “Being brave is not about not having any fear; it’s about being scared but still doing what you have to do.”
Ornstein should know a thing or two about mental health. The father-of-two is a teacher’s assistant at Byram Hills High School in the special education department. Before that, he worked at Northern Westchester Hospital as a psychiatric technician. He made the move to a less-demanding position at Byram Hills to spend more time with his 10-year-old son and 15-year-old daughter.
Ornstein is a coach for the Yorktown Lightning, a 10U travel baseball team, on which his son plays. His daughter plays softball at Yorktown High School. The family has a dog named Norman and they frequent the Sylvan Glen Paw Park.
“I’ve been working in the mental health field for a long time, with children and adolescents,” Ornstein said. “Kids get anxious and nervous and a lot of time people say ‘don’t be scared’ or ‘don’t worry about it.’”
But, Ornstein said, that’s not the right approach.
“It’s about preparing kids to be scared but letting them know it’s not the end of the world,” he said.
Ornstein said he came up with the concept about a decade ago when he was waiting at the bus stop with his daughter. While waiting, they had fun going over the many different possibilities of what type of creature his daughter’s bus driver could be and how she would react.
“Kindergarrrten Bus,” released last week by Sleeping Bear Press, is Ornstein’s second children’s book to be published. In 2009, he wrote “The Daddylong Legs Blues,” which combines science and music, Ornstein said. Unlike his newest venture, “The Daddylong Legs Blues” is written in a rhyming pattern from beginning to end.
The publishing process was quite different nine years ago for Ornstein, who at that time had no books under his belt. After writing “The Daddylong Legs Blues,” Ornstein snail-mailed his manuscript to different publishers around the country. It was eventually picked up by Sterling Publishers.
“The first book, I got really lucky,” Ornstein said. “I was mailing it mostly and you wait to hear back and you get rejection slips and sometimes you don’t hear anything. Some of them only take stuff from agents and some of them take unsolicited manuscripts. I got lucky. The right person picked it up and liked it and contacted me.”
This time around, after Ornstein wrote the manuscripts, it was his agent who did the dirty work and landed him a deal with Sleeping Bear Press. The book’s illustrator, Kevin M. Barry, was chosen by the publisher to bring Ornstein’s words to life.
“Kindergarrrten Bus” is available to purchase at many online retailers, such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
Ornstein said he will read his book at Scattered Books in Chappaqua on Aug. 26, and at the Voracious Reader in Larchmont on Sept. 15.