Harry Binnendyk has always enjoyed using his imagination to tell stories, but the 61-year-old computer programmer never anticipated any of his stories would make it to book form.
“I kind of fell into writing,” he told BarrieToday.
His current book, Steve’s Stinky Socks, came about nearly 25 years ago while driving back and forth to Hamilton to pick up his then-stepsons.
“A two-hour trip with three young kids in the car is usually a rather interesting time. One of the things I did on the trips home to divert their attention was I came up with a game of telling stories," Binnendyk said.
After the boys had told their stories, Binnendyk would wrack his brain for something interesting to say. It was during one of those drives that he said he came up with the first iteration of what has now become his first published children’s book.
“I grabbed the name of a buddy of mine and came up with some strange affliction for the kid and launched into the story," he said. "About halfway through I started running out of things to say… so I switched the story around to these fruit trees and had the kid save the fruit trees from all these birds that were eating it with his stinky socks. The kids thought it was hilarious.”
Although the boys grew up, the story of Steve and his stinky socks never really left his imagination, and nearly two decades later, when trying to figure out a unique Christmas present for some family out west, Binnendyk decided to put pen to paper and officially write the story.
Getting the story from the depths of his imagination and on to the page took him just under an hour, after which he started to search out someone who could illustrate the story for him.
After reaching out to some professors he’d met a few years prior, he was introduced to illustrator Tom Palomares, who he said helped bring his story to life with his pictures.
Excited with the results, Binnendyk showed the nearly finished gift to colleagues, who urged him to consider publishing the book beyond the few gifts he’d had planned.
“I’d had 15 copies printed up, and noticed one of the pictures was duplicated on the page, so they ran another 15,” he said.
Binnendyk ended up handing out those extra copies to kids on the flight out west that Christmas.
“I started asking the kids after they read it if they’d enjoyed it, and their responses were 'yes it was funny.' I thought funny is good," he said.
After returning home, Binnendyk said his colleagues started bugging him about when his next book would come out. The answer to that, he said, is hopefully by the end of this year, adding the book, titled Frank’s Frantic Festival, is about a little boy who steals a wand from a wizard and turns his buddy into a pig the day before the village barbecue. It’s currently in the illustration process.
“There’s definitely a little bit of a moral in the story. … The first story was just my desperate attempt to entertain kids during a long car ride home, and people were telling me they were still finding a moral in it, too," he said.
Binnendyk is now working on writing his third book, titled Sam’s Spectacular Sled, which he said is almost an autobiography of all of the “idiotic things we did on the farm with toboggans."
“I have a couple other ideas and will probably do them up as Christmas gifts. If I find people like them I might get them published as well,” he said. “This is not in any shape or form paying a working salary at this point. I do it for fun,” said Binnendyk, who works as a computer programmer with the Ontario Provincial Police’s business department.
“I’ve actually given away more books than I’ve sold, to be honest with you. I’d been telling kids in the neighbourhood that it was on YouTube for free… and I had one kid pass me on a bicycle, stop and come back to tell me he really enjoyed it and it was a lot of fun," he added.
That reaction from kids of all ages is what means the most to him, and why he is continuing to use his imagination to create fun and crazy stories.
“Reading is supposed to be fun. It’s supposed to engage the imagination and create some emotional responses to the story,” he said. “When I talk with kids and they tell me they really enjoy it, it’s great because that’s the biggest reason for me to write the books. As long as I can come up with ideas that do that, then that’s great.”