The book Hockey Hero, written by Zach Hyman and illustrated by Zachary Pullen, brilliant tale of a boy who finds his true self just when it matters the most. It’s also a very good hockey book. And for good reason: Hyman himself is a professional hockey player. He was drafted by the Florida Panthers in 2010, and he’s currently in the Toronto Maple Leafs system as a member of the Toronto Marlies. So you can be sure he’s got the hockey knowledge to write about the game.
But Hyman is also a skilled writer. Hockey Hero is his second book — his first was about Babe Ruth — and while he carves up the ice he’s carving out a career as a children’s book author. His third book will be out next year, with another following in 2017.
Hyman spoke with SI Kids about his careers on and off the ice, how he uses his experience in his writing, and what he hopes kids will take away from reading his books.
Your first book, The Bambino and Me, was about Babe Ruth — why focus on hockey for your next book, Hockey Hero?
I focused on hockey because I am a hockey player and I grew up in Toronto and I played hockey all my life. I went to school and played hockey at University of Michigan and now I am playing professionally.
You’re a player in the Toronto Maple Leafs organization. How did your experience on the ice help you when you went to write about the sport?
Yes, I am in the Toronto Maple Leaf’s organization now playing for the Toronto Marlies. My books are all about believing in yourself and making your dreams come true. A lot of that comes from when I play hockey and how I feel when I play. I would tell myself to always believe in myself, and when I can do that, I can do anything on the ice. I thought that would be a good message to share with kids.
Did you draw on any of your own personal experiences when writing the book?
A little bit in the hockey one. Some of the teams I used were teams I played on and played against in minor league hockey. Both books are fictional. Both are made up stories that I created, but definitely they have a little bit of my personal experiences.
What do your teammates think when they find out your a children’s book author?
They’re pretty shocked. Not many hockey players write books and write children’s’ books, so they’re excited. A lot of them want to read it.
Why did you write about baseball for your first book?
The Bambino and Me is based around Babe Ruth, who’s a baseball legend. He was my grandpa’s favorite player growing up, so I thought that it would be cool to write about him. I read a lot about him. He is really influential and he had some great quotes that I thought that it would work with the theme of my book, which is believing in yourself and making your dreams come true.
Of the two books, do you have a personal favorite? Why?
I guess I don’t have a personal favorite. I like both of them because they are both different. They hockey one is obviously something that is close to me, but I really like the baseball one. I like the connection with Babe Ruth. I really like some of the things he said and I was able to use those quotes. I don’t know if I have a personal favorite. I like them both in different ways.
Was writing something you were always interested in? When did you know you wanted to write a book?
Growing up, I never planned on being a children’s book author. But I always knew that I enjoyed writing and I loved the process of writing and working on stories. When I was a kid, I always wrote little stories. In grade 7, I wrote a short story and it won a short story competition. That was the premise for the hockey book that is coming out now, and I worked on it through high school. Once I wrote that short story, I knew that maybe I wanted to be a children’s book author.
Why did you decide to make them picture books rather than something with just words?
When I was a kid and I used to read children’s books, I always loved looking at the pictures. I always liked to connect the words with the pictures. I thought that would be the best way for kids to be excited about a book and learn how to read. That is something that I promote. I work with Random House, and we work with charities and go into communities and promote reading. If you have a book that has pictures, it really helps.
How did you come to meet Zachary Pullen and decide to work together?
Zachary Pullen is a great illustrator and he illustrated my first two books. I wrote my first my book when I was pretty young, so my dad helped me look for illustrators. We found Zach Pullen online. When I looked at his work, I knew right away that he was the key person that I wanted to work with. I sent him the script for my stories, and he enjoyed them and said that he would be happy to illustrate them. I was very fortunate that I got such a great illustrator.
What’s the experience like working with an illustrator?
It’s awesome. You get to go over the direction that you want the pictures to take, but at the same time the illustrator always has their own way of doing things and their own touch. They know best with regards to drawing pictures because they have been doing it all their lives, just like I have been writing. Zach Pullen is a great illustrator, and he was really easy to work with and really helpful.
Are you working on a new book now? If so, can you tell us about it?
Sure. I am signed on with Random House for two more books. The next one is going to be released sometime in 2016 and it’s called The Magician’s Secret. It is an adventure book about a little boy and his grandfather. The fourth one is a basketball book that will be coming out in 2017.
What advice would you give to a kid who wants to be a writer like you?
The same advice I give to all the children I speak to, which is incorporated in all my books. The theme is that if you believe in yourself you can make your dreams come true. It’s true whether its hockey, or writing, or any other thing that any kid wants to do. If you truly believe in yourself, and you go out and give 110%, you can do whatever you put your mind to.
Photos: Sam Sciarrino (headshot), Random House (covers), Graig Abel/Getty Images (action)