By Joanne C. Gerstner
Red Line Editorial
Pickleball Paul just wants to fit in, make friends and have fun. Like everybody else. Turns out the lovable red fox finds all of that on a pickleball court, all while taking off on adventures big and small with his friends.
The ongoing children’s saga of Pickleball Paul, now two books deep with a third in the works, comes from the creative mind of Will Terry. He and his wife Lilly are a lot like Paul: eager newbies to pickleball who found a happy community.
Terry, a longtime author and illustrator of children’s books for major publishing houses and other forms of media, wanted to set a nice connection for kids between pickleball and life lessons.
“It all really started two years ago, when we started playing pickleball,” said Terry, a resident of the Happy Trails adult community, in Surprise, Arizona. “We moved here and played tennis a lot in this 55-plus community. But people started leaving in May, June, and we really didn’t have enough people to play with. So we saw the pickleball courts always busy. We thought it would be nice to pick up a new sport together, one we could learn and have fun. We’re newly married —will be four years at the end of August — so we wanted to pick something up together, for us to do as a couple.
“After six months, Lilly left tennis behind. I’m all in too, and we both love the vibrant pickle community here.”
That experience, along with Lilly’s growing pains in taking up a new sport, turned into something creative in Terry’s mind.
He had a much easier time picking up pickleball, as he was a veteran racquetball player and the game came naturally to his hands.
He worked with Lilly, ordering a large amount of pickleballs off the internet and heading out to a court with big scoop shovels — for easy pick up — to run drills with her every day. She was a fast learner, and he has experience as a teacher, but things were still rough at times.
The hard parts of mistiming balls and getting hit, not having the right pace on shots, and unlearning tennis habits led to moments of frustration for her. They kept practicing, drawing looks from the other players wondering what was up, and tried to develop stronger skills.
Soon, the rough parts turned easier, and they both found their place. Terry said he is a solid 3.5 player, while Lilly is now around a 3.0. They play six days per week, sometimes twice per day, and do matches separately or mixed.
Their shared experience of learning and growing resonated, and Terry knew there was a children’s book concept in their journey. The best stories for kids center on the realities of not being the best or biggest player, dealing with the frustration of others not wanting to play with a beginner, and being kind to yourself, Terry said. All those things happened to Will and Lilly, as adults.
So “Pickleball Paul” was born last fall, with Terry writing and illustrating the book. It was published earlier this year and is available anywhere books are sold or at his website. The second book in the series, “Pickleball Paul and the Missing Paddle,” comes out in September.
“I felt that pickleball needed a children’s book like this. It’s a great way to have the sport be part of Paul’s story and use pickleball as a backdrop to teach greater lessons,” Terry, 51, said. “Like the second book, Paul is jumping around on his bed with his dog Chloe, everything goes flying that he had set out for a tournament later in the day. Including his paddle. He discovers the paddle is missing and goes around and blames his sister and friends for taking it.
“Only the reader knows what really happened on the bed, that it flew off and the dog took it back to her doghouse. Paul learns, through the help of his rabbit friend Jorja from pickleball, that he needs to not blame others and look for other reasons for the paddle being missing. He learns accountability, how to be kinder to others, how to be respectful. Those are huge things for all of us, especially kids, to learn.”
The third book, currently in the manuscript process, will deal with Paul and Jorja going to camp and learning how to address bullying of a friend.
Terry intends to keep the Pickleball Paul series going, as there are many adventures ahead for the fox and his friends. Terry hopes the books will catch on within the pickleball community, and in schools and libraries, to help spread the message of kindness and respect — and help kids get into the sport.
“Pickle has become such a big part of our lives, and these books are just another reflection of the impact,” said Terry. “It’s so much fun to bring that to kids too.”
Joanne C. Gerstner has covered two Olympic Games and writes about sports regularly for the New York Times and other outlets. She is a freelance contributor to USA Pickleball on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.