The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

November 22, 2012

Box tops bring children's author to Elkmont High School

By Kim West

— ELKMONT — Approximately 600 elementary students at Elkmont High School saved enough box tops through the “Box Tops for Education” program to book children’s author Michael Shoulders, who visited grades K-6 Monday and Tuesday.

The school, which has 1,026 students in K-12, receives 10 cents for each box top, which are collected from cereal boxes, paper supplies and other products, according to first-grade grade teacher Barbara McCollum.

EHS students raised more than $2,000 last year and have raised $1,400 during the fall semester this year.

McCollum said Shoulders was selected partially through a roundabout connection with the school, founded as Limestone County High School in 1912. It was the same year the subject of one of his books, the HMS Titanic, sank in the north Atlantic Ocean after crashing into an iceberg during its maiden voyage.

“Learning Tree gave us several authors to choose from, and one of the reasons we picked him is because the Titanic sank the same year when this school was started, and this is Elkmont High School’s 100th birthday,” McCollum said. “We took that as a little omen we should pick him, and to top it off he was writing a book about the Sulphur Creek Trestle (in Elkmont).”

Shoulders has penned more than a dozen children’s books, including “T is for Titanic: A Titanic Alphabet,” “G is for Gladiators: An Ancient Rome Alphabet” and “The ABC Book of American Homes.”

A retired educator and graduate of Austin Peay University, Shoulders, who prefers to write at his local Starbucks or from home on his Mac laptop, began writing in 1995, and is a 2012 Eureka Silver Medalist and the recipient of an NAPPA Honor Award for “Titanic.”

He resides in Clarksville, Tenn., with his wife of 38 years, Debbie, who co-wrote “Titanic,” and Maggie, a standard poodle, their kitten Audrey and a hedgehog named Dezi. They also have three children, Jason, Ryan and Meghann.

During his six-hour visit Monday, Shoulders shared a specially-made cake with 30 students who saved the most box tops during a question-and-answer session as the children took turns reading their prepared questions, including this query from 8-year-old Samuel Compton: “How do you name your books?”

Shoulders replied he would prefer to title his Sulphur Creek book “River of Fire,” but ultimately that will be decided by his publisher.

He met with grades K-4 and the sixth grade in the school’s media center for a PowerPoint presentation about his background and the writing process, a boisterous performance of an “A to Z” educational rap song about everything from Olympian Wilma Rudolph and former U.S. President Andrew Jackson to possums, cavefish and raccoons.

He returned to the school on Tuesday to visit the fifth-graders, who spent Monday in Nashville on a school field trip.

During his visit, students learned about the publishing process and the construction of an illustrated book.

Shoulders also discussed overcoming obstacles in trying to get a book published and said inspiration for his books comes from observing typical objects from a different perspective.

Students were able to purchase his hardcover books for $18 and have them autographed during his visit. Most of the books are also available on and range from $7.95 to $17.95 in paperback and hardcover. For more information about Shoulders, visit