Author Christopher Tremblay answers questions from students about Walt Disney while visiting Violet Elementary School March 22.

Author Christopher Tremblay answers questions from students about Walt Disney while visiting Violet Elementary School March 22.

Photo by Kristyne E. Demske


Author returns to elementary school with books in tow

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published March 29, 2019

 Tremblay holds one of his books and a photo of himself as a student at Violet Elementary School.

Tremblay holds one of his books and a photo of himself as a student at Violet Elementary School.

Photo by Kristyne E. Demske

ST. CLAIR SHORES — The last time Christopher Tremblay stepped foot in Violet Elementary School was in 1983.

Since then, he’s lived in Minnesota, western Michigan and at Walt Disney World.

The author of four books — “Walt’s Pilgrimage,” “Walt’s Pilgrimage Jr.,” “Walt of the Day” and “The ABC’s of Walt” — recently brought his books focused on Walter Elias Disney back to the school where he spent his primary years: Violet Elementary in Lake Shore Public Schools.

Violet Elementary Principal Joan Grassi said that the school typically has an author come to visit during March to celebrate Reading Month, but that this year’s visit was extra special because Tremblay is an alum.

“It’s really heartwarming to know that he has these wonderful memories of Violet and that he thought of his elementary school teachers when he wrote that book for kids,” she said.

Although he lived just down the street on Evergreen Street, March 22 was the first time that Tremblay had returned to the school since leaving sixth grade. He dedicated a recent book for children, “The ABC’s of Walt,” to the teachers he had through the years at Violet Elementary School.

Tremblay told the students he has so many great memories of attending Violet Elementary School. He brought out signs he had made for the school’s spring fair — Violet Elementary’s 2019 spring fair was the next day — class photos and art projects he had made while he was a student. He attended the school from preschool to sixth grade and then went to Rodgers for junior high before moving to Minnesota. His family returned to Portage, Michigan, near Kalamazoo, and he attended Western Michigan University.

“The most rewarding thing is seeing the students and their passion for learning,” he said. “They’re all pleasantly surprised that I went to school here.”

He first had the idea to create a college course based on the life of Walt Disney in 2013, and he was able to first teach it as a Study in the States course for Western Michigan University’s Lee Honors College in 2015. Teaching that course and taking students on an eight-day trip that follows the life of Walt Disney across the country led him to investigate the possibility of writing a book. He turned the course into his first book, “Walt’s Pilgrimage,” a travel guide, biography and history, which was published in 2017.

“Walt took his movies (and) turned them into merchandise that we all buy,” he told the students, explaining that part of Disney’s synergy was his ability to do that, and then to turn the stories into Disneyland and Walt Disney World, which in turn inspired more stories.

“One of the reasons I admired Walt Disney is because he never stopped dreaming,” he told the students. “He had so many ideas and he wanted to change the world.”

He exhorted students to follow their passion because that is how he ended up teaching a college course and writing books about Walt Disney. From the moment he visited Walt Disney World at age 5 in 1977, he was hooked.

“My first visits to the Walt Disney World resort were planting the seed. When I was in high school, I started writing papers (that were) Disney related,” he said.

Tremblay was the first person in his family to go to college and he ended up earning master’s and doctorate degrees as well.

“The possibilities are endless for all of you,” he said.

He told the children to think about what they like to spend time doing and try to focus on that for a career.

“When I found something I really cared about, I really dove into it,” he said.

Tremblay’s four published works are available on Amazon, and he has two more in development. Tremblay also donated a set of his books to the St. Clair Shores Public Library.

Tremblay shared some tidbits about Walt Disney that the students may not have known before, such as the fact that Disney visited Greenfield Village in Dearborn and may have modeled some parts of Main Street, USA, in Disneyland after that attraction. Disney also visited other places in Michigan, including the Ford Rouge Factory, the Henry Ford Museum and Hickory Corners in Barry Township.

He shared with them the fact that Walt Disney World in Florida has its own government and is located in three counties. Disney had different people buy up parcels of land for his project in Florida to keep the prices lower than they would have been had sellers known that Disney was buying the property. And he told them about a character that was taken from Disney before he knew how to protect his creative rights.

“If you take a look at Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, you’ll notice how similar he looks to Mickey Mouse, because he drew Oswald before Mickey Mouse,” Tremblay said.

Grassi said that it’s great to have students meet adults who have had great achievements in their adult lives. Some authors of children’s books, she said, actually struggled as students.

“We love for the kids to see that and possibly get some inspiration,” she said.