Patti Wheeler’s twin boys, Gannon and Wyatt, were flying before they could walk.
Wheeler, a former flight attendant, and her husband, a businessman, took the twins on vacations all over the world from the time they were born, homeschooling them through fourth grade.
Then one day, when the boys were about 9 and releasing an injured turtle off the French Polynesian island of Bora Bora, Wheeler saw the look of wonder on their faces and realized that she wanted to share those experiences.
“I sort of decided at that moment 10 years ago that I wanted to create a book series,” she said. “That was the pivotal moment: wildlife, community, cultural diversity, environment. It all came together.”
Now the boys’ fictional selves are the heroes of “Travels with Gannon and Wyatt,” a series of travel and adventure novels aimed at middle schoolers.
“I borrowed their names and their early photos and sort of froze them at 14,” Wheeler said.
Wheeler was in New Orleans for three days recently to promote the series. The newest book, in which Gannon and Wyatt go to Ireland and help solve an environmental problem that is sickening sheep, debuts March 17.
“They get into all kinds of mischief along the way, and ultimately they save the day,” Wheeler said. “It’s sort of Indiana Jones meets the Hardy Boys.”
As a flight attendant, Wheeler kept journals of her travels, inspired by her mother, who at 100 years old still journals every night. To research each book, Wheeler and co-author Keith Hemstreet spend two or three weeks in the tale’s location, writing, taking video and learning about the culture and language.
In collaboration with educators, the books are aligned to Common Core standards, with maps, information about culture and discussion questions.
“All of our books have an environmental theme,” Wheeler added. “For instance, if you are in Egypt, there is tremendous pollution ... and no one goes to school there. Many Egyptians do not read and write. These are challenges that we expose. We want to bring awareness to that.”
But mostly, the books are meant to be fun, and teachers and librarians say their light touch appeals to young people — especially boys considered “reluctant readers,” Wheeler said.
These days, the real Gannon and Wyatt are 20 years old, students at Texas Christian University and the University of Colorado at Boulder. “It’s the first time they’ve been apart,” their mom said.
How do they feel about being stars of a book series? “They’re good boys.” she said. “They’re flattered. Honored, really.”
Now, in an effort to spread the literacy and learning farther, the series has joined with the Youth Exploration Society to give away one book for each purchased.
“We’re nearing almost 15,000 books that we are giving to organizations” such as schools and libraries, the author said. She and Helmstreet visit schools all over the country, trying to promote a sense of adventure and exploration among students.
“We just want to inspire the love of discovery, of the world around us,” Wheeler said. “The world is so interesting. There are so many lessons that you can’t learn from a textbook.”