ALBANY, Ga. -- The questions were frequent and thoughtful.
Deerfield-Windsor School sixth- through eighth-graders couldn't get enough of "Whispers From the Bay" author John Tkac, who captured the Florida Book Awards' 2008 Gold Medal in its Young Adult Literature category.
Tkac of Delray Beach, Fla., spoke recently to Deerfield students in an assembly and in the school's media center to classes.
The middle school students read his book about a boy who can communicate with dolphins as one of two books students were required to read this summer. Students were assigned activities to tie into Tkac's book the first two weeks of school, said middle school language arts/reading teacher Peggy Kinsaul, who coordinated the author's visit. Kinsaul said the school bought about 200 copies of the book from Tkac.
Seventh-grader Tre'Vonte Beach asked the author several insightful questions during Tkac's talk.
"(I was) very interested," he said. "A lot of books just keep going but aren't interesting, but this one had a lot of twists and turns. ... I liked how he showed him and the dolphins and their companionship and how they connect with each other."
Tkac, who lived in Albany 1973-82 when he was a sales manager for Pritchett Ford, said his life literally changed when he won the Florida Book Awards Gold Medal. Tkac self-published the hardback book -- listed at $22.95 -- under his Southeast Books company.
"When I won the Gold Medal last year from the Florida Book Awards in young adult literature, it changed my world," said Tkac, who sold his car dealership in 2005 to began writing full time. "It's a Florida author about a book that takes place in Florida. Every library in the state was practically bound to purchase the book. It went from being a very expensive hobby to a very lucrative endeavor. One gold equaled 20,000 books immediately."
In his visit to the Albany school, Tkac said he was pleased by the questions the students asked.
"I've been to about 150 schools and this is one of the nicest ones I've ever been to because of the astute questions, especially the younger ones," said Tkac, who's also a motivational speaker. "The sixth-graders (asked), 'What inspired you to write this book?' I mean, that's astute questioning."
Tkac answered some of that question while he was talking to the middle schoolers.
"I am a born-and-raised Miami boy," he told the students. "My brother and I used to go out and fish in Biscayne Bay in our aluminum boat and the dolphins would all come up to us."
To make the 212-page book as "scientifically accurate" as possible -- except for dolphins that telepathically speak English, he joked -- Tkac went to great lengths. This included swimming with dolphins 21 times.
When asked by a student what he would ask a dolphin if he could communicate with one, Tkac answered, "What could we do to make their lives healthier and are the seas getting warmer based on global warming?"
Tkac, who earned a bachelor's degree from Notre Dame and master's from the University of Georgia, reminded the students that dolphins' only natural predator are sharks. However, he said, "People are the biggest killers of dolphins."