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Saturday, July 5, 2014

Close encounters of the barbecue kind presented in children's book, "Take Me to Your BBQ"

Late in the night of Sept. 19, 1961, New Hampshire couple Betty and Barney Hill were returning from a vacation in Montreal, Canada, when they allegedly became involved in the first widely reported UFO abduction case in the United States.

The couple told the U.S. Air Force that they were kidnapped by aliens on board a cigar-shaped spacecraft, while driving near Lincoln, N.H. and otherwise could not account for two hours of that evening. Although they filed a government report, they did not go public with their story until it was leaked in a Boston publication in 1965.

The Hills' story became the subject of a 1975 television movie staring James Earl Jones and Estelle Parsons. A historical marker was placed near the site of the incident in 2011.

"TakeMe to Your BBQ," a recent children's book that barbecue lovers may enjoy has a connection to the Hills story as well as another more recent and famous UFO incident in Stephenville, Texas.

In the 2013 book by Kathy Duval, aliens land on Texas cowpoke Willy's farm and demand a square dance and a square meal. After they fill up on some barbecue from his offset smoker, Willy turns the tables and leaves the messy aliens in the dust so to speak. It is a fun story, vividly illustrated over 36 pages.

The idea for "Take Me to Your BBQ" came to the Houston, Texas resident while she was working on another children's book. Like many writers, she had a case of writer's block and began doing some "free writing" -- typing whatever came to her mind.  

"The first two lines of that story came out out -- 'Yippee ki-yi!, Yippee ki-yo. I think I see a UFO' -- I have no idea where it came from," she recalled. Realizing that they were funny lines, she spent the rest of the afternoon writing a scenario based on them.

Kathy Duval
"I said to myself, since I had those first two lines, I wondered why an alien would come down and visit a cowboy and then I figured it had to be for barbecue," said Duval, an Oklahoma native who was raised mostly in Texas.

Adam McCauley's illustrations depict smoke from Willy's pit curling into the sky -- Duval notes, "you can just smell it" -- and attract any intelligent life in space to the Earth.

Duval, a former art teacher and art therapist, set her notes aside and forgot about them for about six months, when they made her chuckle again, so she sent her idea to her agent, who was excited about the book concept. The book came out in 2013.

The author of holiday-related "Three Bears" children's books, "Take Me to Your BBQ" was Duval's first imprint on Disney Hyperion.

On Jan. 8, 2008, the same night that Duval rediscovered her story in her computer, dozens of residents of Stephenville, Texas gained national media attention when they reported that they'd seen UFOs, which she finds curious.

"Maybe I was channeling aliens," she joked.

Duval remembers seeing some of the people being interviewed by Larry King on CNN. "One of them was a farmer. They showed him going through the fields and he's looking up at the sky," she recalled. "They asked him how big was it and he said it was big as a Wal-Mart, which I think is hysterical, because that's a new unit of measure.

"He was talking about his animals and how they were going crazy and I thought that's like the farmer in my story," she said.

The book also pays homage to the Hills. A copy of the star map that Betty Hill drew under hypnosis, supposedly passed long from the alien leader, can be found incorporated into its end pages.

As she set out to fully develop the story, Duval said wanted to focus on its fun elements. However, she also sees a moral in the story's ending, when the aliens get left behind to work in the fields after making a mess of the cowboy's ranch.

"I always tell the kids that you should think hard before you party hard," Duval said.

The Hills told the world about their abduction by aliens. In Duval's story, Willy ends up on another planet playing music and cooking barbecue. I asked her if he ever comes back.

"I don't think so," she told me. "I think he likes it where he is. He can play his music now. He doesn't have to farm. He's got his own barbecue place. He can spend his time doing what he likes."

Another message of the book is that food should be fun, including the preparation. To that end, she has included a recipe, "Willy’s Out of This World Barbecue Sauce," after the story, which actually is a family recipe that Duval grew up with. She hopes that parents will use the recipe as part of their efforts to teach children how to cook.

Perhaps "Take Me to Your BBQ" also has been successful in part because of the universal popularity of barbecue. A big fan of the Salt Lick in Driftwood and Stubbs Barbeque in Austin, Duval admits she was biased when she decided to focus her story on Texas barbecue.

"We have the best, no doubt about that," she says proudly.  

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