LEWISTON — Mike Parker, father of one, doesn’t need a new tie for Father’s Day.

Parker, 65, who retired last year after 42 years as an elementary school teacher, has a unique collection of ties, featuring hand-drawn characters of well-known, award-winning children’s books — along with each author’s autograph.

One of his ties features “Clifford the Big Red Dog” with Norman Bridwell’s signature.

Another is “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” and author Eric Carle’s autograph.

There’s a tie featuring Judy Blume, author of “Socks” and “Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing.”

Another is illustrated with characters from “The Mitten” accompanied by author Jan Brett’s autograph.


On a recent day, Parker wore his “Pinkerton” Great Dane tie with Steve Kellogg’s autograph.

“I knelt down on the floor and he autographed it,” Parker recalled, wearing a smile that never seems to go away.

The retired teacher comes across as warm and enthusiastic about encouraging children to read.

His goal of collecting author autographs “was to teach kids that real people had written these books,” Parker said. “They don’t just sit there in the library.”

Another goal is to teach about the writing process, and how rewriting and revising is hard work.

His collection has its roots in a letter from Beverly Clearly, who wrote the “Ramona” books. Clearly was a children’s librarian in Washington and quit to write.


Parker wrote Clearly, thanking her for writing her books.

“The kids loved them,” he said. “When I got an answer from her, and it was not a form letter, I was so excited. I thought maybe I could get more letters from authors.”

He did. Eventually, he branched out to ties.

A gifted artist, Parker painted characters of the books on ties. He put each tie in a mailer with a pre-addressed envelope, asking the author to sign the tie and return it.

Out of 35 requests, 34 authors signed and returned the tie. The only one who didn’t was Chris Van Allsburg of “The Polar Express.” The author did send a postcard, however, stating he was unavailable to autograph the tie, but he sent a book, postcard and a Polar Express ball.

Other ties have been signed by Robert Munsch, author of “Love You Forever”; Donn Fendler, “Lost on a Mountain in Maine”; Joanna Cole, “The Magic School Bus” books; and Newbery medal-winning author Sid Fleischman, “The Whipping Boy.”


“I have read ‘The Whipping Boy’ for 30 years,” Parker said. “It’s wonderful. It takes place in the 15th century” about a prince and a pauper. “I love the story because the vocabulary was difficult. It taught dictionary skills.”

When Parker’s collection was large enough, he wore a different tie each day in April and May — and students would read books written by the author of that day’s tie.

Parker has met several authors, including Jan Brett at a conference in Indianapolis, Tomie dePaola, who wrote “Strega Nona” at a book signing, and Eric Carle at Bates College in Lewiston.

As Parker stood in line to meet Carle, he was wearing his “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” tie. “He was 85 years old, very German,” Parker said. When Carle saw the tie, he smiled and got excited. “He said, ‘I give you an A-plus!’” as he signed it.

In 2006, Steven Kellogg visited Parker’s classroom and talked to students about writing and illustrating. Kellogg left Parker with a note that read: “With thanks to a master teacher for the wonderful work you do bringing children and books joyfully together.”

Parker began teaching in Lewiston in 1972 at the Coburn School, now Head Start. Among the schools where he has taught are Wallace for 18 years; Montello, 13 years; and Geiger, five years.


Parker said he misses teaching and sympathizes with those in the classroom.

“When I see the poor teachers today suffering with all this testing, I get so frustrated,” he said. “There’s so many creative things teachers could be doing. Test them at the beginning of school; test them at the end.” What administrators will find out is, ‘Oh, look at that! They’ve grown.’”

Too much testing leads to students filling in circles, going to the next question, he said, adding that it’s not terribly accurate.

With schools out for the summer, Parker said it’s critical that parents read to students.

“Go to the library,” he said. “Let them pick books out.”

Daily reading means students will keep their skills up, he said.

“It’s so important — read on the commercials before you go to bed,” he said. 

Without that, when students return in the fall, “it takes a month to get them rolling again,” he said. “If they’ve been reading, they’re not as far behind.”


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