Buddy System

When most people think of fundamental issues taught in young children’s books, the ABCs and 123s might come to mind. This is not the case in Roderick Borisade and Aaron Hazouri’s “Buddy and Bird.”

Hazouri and Borisade met in graphic design classes at the University of North Florida. Years later, Hazouri was doing freelance illustration, and Borisade was working on his poetry and public speaking, but they both thought they could be doing something more powerful with their talents.

They looked back on their own lives and experiences to create Buddy and Bird, semi-autobiographical characters that they could use to teach children valuable life lessons. Buddy the dog is like Borisade, who grew up in a lower-class neighborhood; Bird is based on Hazouri, who grew up in an upper-middle-class neighborhood.

“Buddy and Bird” is a book about two kids who meet on the first day of school and are forced to work together — but from that a great friendship is formed.

Their octopus teacher, appropriately named Mr. Hands, assigns the students the task of getting to know how the other lives. Buddy is from “the ’hood,” and Bird is from “the ’burbs.” The fence around Buddy’s house is chain-link, while Bird’s is white-picket. Kids in Buddy’s neighborhood spend their time rhyming and jumping on mattresses, while Bird and his friends skateboard and jump on trampolines.

With 1,000 copies sold, Hazouri and Borisade have achieved some local success, but they have yet to take the “Buddy and Bird” message as far as they would like.

According to the two men, the ideas of diversity and friendship between people of different backgrounds are not promoted enough in Jacksonville, and they wanted to address that in the book.

This time last year, Roderick, who uses the stage name ODD?ROD, released a CD of his poetry, “The Art of Plain English Session II: More Than Just A Poet,” and went on a 40-city college tour performing his poetry and promoting “Buddy and Bird.”

“Jacksonville is such a segregated city. You have a white side of town and a black side of town. You have black schools, and you have white schools,” Borisade said. “I’ve traveled now throughout the country and mentioned that at colleges, and they’re, like, ‘Oh my God, really?’”

The target audience of the book is children 4 to 8 years old.

“By the time they get to middle school, they have already started to fall into those familiar patterns,” Hazouri said. “You can go to middle schools now and see that they’re doing stuff teenagers used to do.”

“There’s no fixing the people who are already grown; it’s too late for them. Books and stories like this are necessary because kids are different these days,” Borisade said. “Either you’re going to reach them, or your television is going to reach them.”

Hazouri and Borisade are in the process of developing a pilot episode of a “Buddy and Bird” television program that would offer kids an alternative to the typical children’s programming.

“Our vision for this is kind of a cross between the old ‘Fat Albert’ show where Bill Cosby would come in and give a little bit of a message, plus a little bit of ‘Sesame Street’ with the puppets and a little bit of an old-fashioned cartoon show with animated characters,” Hazouri said.

They would also like to produce educational materials to coincide with the show for class discussion.

The program, currently in pre-production, is dependent on raising money for the cause. Hazouri and Borisade estimate that the pilot episode will cost approximately $20,000 to produce, and while they haven’t made much of a dent in this goal yet, they are still working to make the program a reality.

Pending their fundraising efforts, they plan on more installments of the “Buddy and Bird” book that are based on Roderick’s poetry and various topics such as bullying, peer pressure, divorce and death in the family. Hazouri does the artwork and builds puppets for occasional live “Buddy and Bird” shows.

Aside from “Buddy and Bird,” Borisade still performs his poetry and motivational speaking and Hazouri continues his freelancing and also writes and illustrates his own comic, “The Strange Adventures of Toaster Guy.”

“It’s just using what we’ve gone through to create something great to help others,” Roderick said.