As a little boy Trevor Romain would lie on his bed in their Orange Grove, Johannesburg, home and dream of writing children’s books. His love of reading was infused by his grade three teacher, Mrs Barry, whose Friday afternoon reading sessions helped him escape his reality of being bullied. And even though Trevor was dyslexic and suffered from ADD (attention deficit disorder), he chased his dream and has become a world-renowned, best-selling, award-winning storyteller, author, photographer and keynote speaker. Saffa Mag virtually caught up with Trevor who lives in Hawaii.
Trevor has written and published 52 books which have been translated into 24 languages and he has sold over a million copies during his 30-year career. His work is being used by thousands of educators to help kids who are facing some difficult situations such as bullying, divorce, deployment, grief/trauma, and homework to name a few. The Washington Post said: “His rapport with kids is a stunning thing to watch.” He has travelled to schools, hospitals, orphanages, refugee camps, and military bases worldwide, delivering his unique heartfelt self-messages of resilience, compassion and the ability for kids to safely express themselves.
For him, it all started in a Linksfield Primary School classroom. His enthusiasm for his work is tangible, even on screen. “Oh, I loved our times in that little classroom. Our teacher would shut the door, put a lamp on and read ‘The Secret Seven’ to us. I was fascinated by the Enid Blyton series and I used to pick up the books and think to myself ‘how on earth did that story come from these pages?’.” Trevor says reading became an obsession with him and he knew that he would one day write children’s books.
Fast forward to Trevor as a 19-year-old soldier as he walks through the Children’s Ward at Voortrekkerhoogte Hospital, where a 5-year-old black boy reaches out to him and, in perfect Afrikaans, says: “Hou my vas.” (Hold me please).
“There I was in uniform, a big deal. I put my backpack down and picked him up. The boy nestled his tiny face in my neck and started to cry. His tears ran down my neck and shirt and it touched my heart. From that moment on I knew that my mission in life would be caring for children.”
He didn’t quite know where the road would lead him. After his army days, Trevor became a copywriter at an advertising company. He still wanted to write, but his attempts at getting anything published, weren’t fruitful. In 1986 he packed his bags and decided to move to America.
“I wrote a book but was still turned down. It was then that I decided to offer my book to a non-profit organisation as a method to raise funds for them and in return I would get published. I was turned down many times until the Childhood Cancer Society in Austin showed interest.”
Keeper of my dreams was published, made good money and Trevor’s journey took shape. “The publisher asked me to host a reading at a children’s hospital and promote the book. I ended up reading to a small group of children who were receiving cancer treatment. When I was done, a young boy asked me to read the book again and I ended up reading the book seven times.
“I still didn’t leave and we started drawing, as I also illustrate my own books. As I was leaving, a boy called Alex Dunn asked me whether I was coming back the next day and I said ‘yes’. Thirty years later I still go back.”
Trevor soon became aware that he was comfortable around children experiencing trauma and themed his books around the topics they were struggling with. He began speaking engagements at schools and has reached about 1.5million during his career.
“I am a 14-year-old boy trapped in an older dude’s body, so I can make kids laugh hard. I do stand-up comedy with my message woven into the material.” He has also worked with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, UNICEF, The Boys and Girls Club, and the USO and further developed material for the United Nations for children living in armed-conflict areas. He visited and worked with former child soldiers in the Congo, Burundi, Rwanda, and Uganda.
Trevor has developed a programme which promotes peer-to-peer training which has been rolled out to 300 schools in America. “We implement a support system where kids become ambassadors to other children and offer a safety net especially for new arrivals. The ‘anchored-for-life’ programme sets up a buddy system where kids look after each other when they are being bullied or simply struggling to adjust.”
The Comfort Crew for Military Kids and the Trevor Romain Company have been visiting schools on and off base all over the world as part of the With You All the Way! Tour to help kids become happier, healthier, and more confident!
Covid impacted on his programme and school visits, so Trevor moved a big chunk of his engagements online. “I interact virtually and recently had a speaking engagement with school teachers in Australia. I relay to them what I have learned from kids, and how they need to deal with the challenges children face.
When I’m with the kids I tell them they shouldn’t wait for grown-ups to change the world – they take too long and have too many meetings!” Trevor says it is a dream to engage with South African children in the future where he can share his knowledge and skill. He has not forgotten his home country and is associated with an orphanage in Botshabelo. “I usually spend a portion of my December holidays with them and accompany them on their visit to the South Coast. It remains a highlight to witness the moment when a child experiences the sea for the first time.”
His mom, Carmel still lives in the same house in Orange Grove. “I love sleeping in my old room and when there, I tell young Trevor, who had to endure the loss of friends, bullying and who had big dreams, it is okay. Your dreams did come true.”
Trevor’s list of favourite SA things:
– The Springboks
– The African bush
– His mom’s Mrs Balls chutney chicken
– Five Roses tea every day!