New Children’s Book Series Inspired by William and Ida Friday’s Passion for Education

A woman with short brown hair speaks in front of the Lessons for the Wolfpack book cover with the NC State logo on it
Hiller Spires hosts a luncheon at the Friday Institute to celebrate the launch of children’s book Lessons for Wolfpack Fans.

When William and Ida Friday’s daughter Mary Leadbetter introduced children’s book author and publisher Aaron Gard to Hiller A. Spires, executive director of the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation and associate dean in the NC State College of Education, they discovered a shared passion for education and making the next generation better than the last.

“The Friday Institute is an amazing organization with a mission our publishing company aligns with closely,” Gard said. “Educate, innovate and inspire—that’s what we’re all about.”

In Gard’s new children’s books series, Lessons For, he hopes to educate, improve development and build a sense of community for children. 

Lessons for Wolfpack Fans is the first book in this series and is partially inspired by Dr. William Friday and Ida Friday’s leadership and advocacy to advance K-12 education in North Carolina. 

“Dr. Friday was a longtime family friend and mentor,” said Gard. “He was someone I called on for advice and guidance. I hope Dr. Friday would be proud of the book’s mission and how it encourages the next generation of Wolfpack fans.”

After hearing firsthand accounts from teachers about how excessive screen time was negatively affecting their students, Gard was motivated to get children and adults off screens and reading books.

Research has shown that excessive screen time can be associated with lower psychological well-being among children and adolescents. Excessive screen time has the potential to lead to less curiosity, self-control and emotional stability. The National Institute of Health’s preliminary findings from a current 10-year research study on children and screen time found that children who spent more than seven hours a day on digital devices were experiencing premature thinning of the outer layer of their brains. This layer of the brain is responsible for vital functions, such as information processing, reasoning and understanding language.

“Excessive screen time has an adverse impact on children’s brain development, concentration, socialization and the ability to build a large vocabulary,” said Gard. “Children learn through relationships and back-and-forth interactions, including the interactions that occur when reading with others. Reading books can also help problem behaviors like hyperactivity, aggression and attention issues.”

Lessons For was created to build reading skills, reduce children’s screen time and encourage reading engagement through the lens of college sports. Gard co-founded the publishing company that produces these books, GreatestFan Publishing, with his colleague Gardner H. Altman, Jr., who believes that sports teach children skills and lessons they can apply to the rest of their lives, including teamwork and inclusion. 

“These books emphasize the importance of learning to live together by playing together,” said Altman.

Three students stand in a line reading from their own copies of children's book Lessons for the Wolfpack
Centennial Campus Magnet Middle School students perform a reading of Lessons for Wolfpack Fans during a luncheon at the Friday Institute.

Currently there are two books available in the series for fans of NC State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, with books for other schools already in the works. One hundred percent of the royalties from all of the NC State books sold will support NC State students’ athletic, merit and study abroad scholarships as well as need-based financial aid programs.

Spires hosted a luncheon May 19 at the Friday Institute to introduce educators and NC State fans to the new book. Middle school students from neighboring school Centennial Campus Magnet Middle School performed a reading of the book.

“I am inspired by Aaron and Gardner’s vision and mission for these books,” said Spires. “The passion they have for literacy and a quality education for all students is laudable. I think Dr. and Mrs. Friday would be happy about this initiative.”