Matthew Dobbins’ journey to becoming a successful children’s author began with a chance encounter.
Preparing to fly home to Riverside following one of his frequent business trips, he claimed his usual seat next to the airplane’s window. Soon, a woman made her way down the aisle and sat next to him.
Without introducing herself, she said, “Did you realize that 35% of people are scared to fly?”
“No,” Dobbins admitted. “Are you scared to fly?”
She said yes and proceeded to explain her anxiety. Before long she fell asleep, and Dobbins began to jot notes about the conversation on a Delta Air Lines napkin.
That was the last he thought about the encounter for some time.
Then, this past March, he opened his notebook to search for something, and the napkin flew out.
“I was like, ‘Oh, yeah; I forgot about this,’” he said.
At the time, air travel was being restricted due to the COVID-19 outbreak, and he thought if he couldn’t travel, he could write something – maybe a travel book – based on his notes. He’d had some experience in that area, having run a travel blog in his spare time.
But the end result was something quite different: a children’s book titled “Duncan’s First Flight.”
It’s the story of a boy named Duncan who is about to take his first flight. He is nervous about flying but is able to overcome his fear with the help of Ridley Roo, his kangaroo sidekick.
Though Dobbins had never written a book before, he had a background in telling stories. His mother was a professional storyteller.
“She was paid to tell stories in schools,” he said. “She had contracts with the county I grew up in, Seminole County.”
As a boy, Dobbins would travel with his mother on her storytelling tours, and he attended the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesboro, Tenn., several times.
Once he finished “Duncan’s First Flight,” Dobbins asked his wife, Serina Hedrick, to read it. She had been a teacher and asked other teachers she knew to read it over as well. They provided Dobbins with some useful feedback on the book.
Because Dobbins was not an illustrator, he enlisted the aid of his brother-in-law, Charles Hedrick, who had studied art in college.
When the book was complete, Dobbins self-published it in November. Reaction from the public was swift. At one point, the short book was the number one new release at Amazon.com. Even a month after publication, Dobbins said the book was ranked in the top 1% in the world.
One character he often gets questions about is Ridley Roo, which he based on a stuffed animal he had as a child, Bingo Bear. Bingo, like Ridley, was a friend who could help a child overcome discomfort or anxiety.
The character is a positive role model for young fans of his book.
“We can all be like Ridley Roo,” Dobbins said. “We can all give a little encouragement or be a mentor to somebody – just a wave and a smile to a neighbor. If we can be a little bit more like Ridley Roo, the world’s going to be a better place.”
Dobbins posts a special feature on his Facebook and Instagram pages that has been a big hit with fans.
“People take a picture of their child with the book, or themselves with the book at the airport or wherever, and they can be ‘Duncan’s Friend of the Day,’” he said.
The posts can be found by searching @duncan.ridleyroo or #DuncansFriends.
Dobbins is working on some ideas for follow-up books, though nothing is set in stone yet.
“Duncan’s First Flight” can be found at Chamblain Bookmine and San Marco Books and More, as well as Amazon.com.