Connextions Magazine recently caught up with world traveler J.B. Blankenship and author of The Christmas Truck. From our conversation, we can tell J.B. is a great storyteller, he has a passion for it and he also seems to have a deep rooted passion for teaching and of course, Connextions Magazine’s favorite pastime – traveling.
Growing up in the mountains of Appalachia, he was bullied so much in school his parents made him transfer schools every year with the hope that the bullying would end. He came out at the age of 13. When he got his driver’s license, he would often visit the regional airport and pretend that he was one of the travelers. Sitting in the small airport café, he wrote in his journal about all the places he dreamed of visiting, but never actually expected to see.
But J.B. did get to see those places and a whole lot more that he would never imagine. He sailed around the world while working for the Semester at Sea program and described getting lost on a mountain in rural Japan and having to be rescued by Buddhist monks. He spent summers on cross-country bicycle rides volunteering as a counselor for Decycles, an interfaith youth summer camp and his winters taking ice climbing classes where he climbed frozen waterfalls in Northern Wisconsin. As a live-in high school home-school teacher, he took his students backpacking around the world. As if by destiny, it was his journeys and adventures, which led J.B. to meet people around the world, which would later help with the translation of The Christmas Truck into Italian, Dutch and soon to be published in Spanish.
One of his best friends, an Italian citizen who holds a Ph.D. in economics, translated the book into Italian while on a flight to Rome because “he wanted to share the story with his nieces and nephews.” The Dutch version came to be because Blankenship was visiting a remote macaw research center in the Amazon rainforest of Peru with a group of friends. To pass the time on the 8 hour boat ride up the Tambopata River, his Belgian friends translated the book into Dutch.
Although not yet a parent, J.B. has served as a parent figure and mentor to many children and homeless youth, teaching them, nurturing them, helping them find stable living situations and navigating the college admissions process. Currently, he spends his free time volunteering with SitStayRead, a Chicago based literacy organization that brings therapy dogs into struggling public elementary schools. Kids read stories to the dogs about dogs and then write their own stories. “Every week I get to help these awesome kids create their own stories that reflect their world. And I get to play with dogs. It’s pretty amazing!” he exclaims.
The Christmas Truck includes some of J.B.’s holidays’ traditions, like oyster stew, which plays a splashing role in the book, and although he claims he is not a fan of oyster stew, it was always served on Christmas Eve. The tradition of fulfilling the wish list of a needy child is something he started with his partner. The story follows Papa, Dad and their kid, alongside the retired Fire Chief Grandma and how they are able to save Christmas for a family in need. It teaches us that even when things don’t go your way, the spirit of the holiday season allows magical moments and adventures.
For Connextions Magazine review of The Christmas Truck, please click here.
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