On a sunny December day, Houston Kidd sits in an empty computer lab at the U.S. naval office near N.C. State, where he recently started working as a recruiter. Kidd is dressed in camouflage fatigues, reading from his first and only book, so far, Willow the Water Bear.
“‘I wish I was a superhero,’ Willow exclaimed, ‘I’d save people and everyone would know my name!’” Kidd continues: “‘What if I told you,’ Mrs. Grade declared aloud, ‘that you’re already a superhero? Be proud!’”
Kidd’s book was recently selected by the Story Time From Space program, to be taken up to the International Space Station and read aloud by an astronaut to kids on earth.
When he got the call, Kidd says, he had to take a deep breath, “knowing that my book will be leaving the planet, will be on the International Space Station, being held by an actual astronaut, read to kids on earth, and then those kids will be able to read along with their copies, or just to watch it.”
Kidd is a self-described science geek. He says he was watching Neil deGrasse Tyson’s documentary series, Cosmos, when he learned about water bears. They’re microscopic creatures that can survive in extreme conditions, like the Antarctic and even outer space.
“And they just blew my mind,” he says. “And so for the first couple of weeks, I went around telling people, ‘Do you know about these things? Have you ever heard about these things? They’re insane.’ And it evolved from there. I said, ‘You know who would really love to learn about these things, is kids.’”
After months of thinking about writing a kids’ book, Kidd put pen to paper. He consulted a scientist at UNC who studies water bears, to get his facts straight.
Kidd’s childhood friend, Eric Lee Bates, illustrated the story. When the two were growing up, Kidd said, they spent a lot of time at the library or in Kidd’s basement writing and drawing stories together.
“I’d love to go back and look at some of the stories I came up with,” he says. “I’m sure they’re quite ridiculous -- or great! Who knows.”
Kidd says he’s excited for his book to find more readers when it gets taken up to space. But even more than that, he’s hoping Willow the Water Bear will spark more children’s interest in science.
“If one child...goes on to pursue an actual degree,” he says, “and it doesn’t have to be a degree, but a lifestyle, or just want to learn more, want to do more, want to understand more about everything around us, then I consider this to be a success.”
Follow Lisa Phillip on Twitter @laphilip.