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The Country School Headmaster Publishes Book, Announces Launch Party

Published Nov 24, 2016 • Last Updated 01:42 pm, November 22, 2016

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The headmaster of The Country School, John Fixx, has published a book, The Curious Guide to Things that Aren’t, and he will be celebrating on Small Business Saturday—Saturday, Nov. 26—from 1 to 3 p.m. at Breakwater Books, 81 Whitfield Street, Guilford, and on Friday, Dec. 2 from 3 to 5 p.m. at The Country School, 341 Opening Hill Road, Madison.

Representatives from Breakwater Books, a long-standing local, independent bookstore owned by a Country School family, will be on The Country School campus on Friday, Dec. 2 with copies of the book. To pre-order a book, visit

Fixx said recently on his blog that writing a book takes hope, “because the author never knows whether a publisher will pick up the book and whether, even published, the book will find any readers.”

He says his goal in writing the book was to honor the memory of his father, and to celebrate his mother.

“Nevertheless, finding it published and on the shelves is an exciting experience, and also a wonderful way to relive my childhood with my parents,” he says.

A Challenging Task

Fixx says his parents, Jim and Mary Fixx, began the work on The Curious Guide to Things That Aren’t back around 1959, when they were recent Oberlin College graduates and newlyweds.

“My father picked away at the writing, while my mother worked on a couple of preliminary illustrations. But they had a first child, followed quickly by their second, me, and the book was set aside. It was really moved to the back shelf when my younger brother and sister, twins, entered the world. With four children under the age of five, there just wasn’t much time to sit at the drafting table and illustrate or enough peace and quiet outside of the office to write the story,” he says.

Fixx says his father went on to edit magazines, and to serve as managing editor of McCall’s. He also wrote professionally, producing three books of puzzles and then four books on exercise, including The Complete Book of Running, which spent 56 weeks in the number one spot on The New York Times bestseller list.

Fixx found the draft of The Curious Guide to Things That Aren’t among his father’s papers after he died in 1984, when Fixx was 22 years old. He says he did not have time to focus on it, at the time.

“It was only when our own children were grown and I had retired from Chase Collegiate School as head and decided not to accept the offers of two additional independent school headships to become development director at The Country School that I found myself with the time to tackle the book. Things That Aren’t was written late at night, on weekends, and during the early morning hours, and I enjoyed the challenging writing task immensely. At times I felt like a Swiss watch maker, as I tried to find the right word, arranging jewels in just the right way in a watch. Other times, like our students sometimes, I would feel clumsy and inept, unable to find the right words to capture my thoughts,” he says.

He says his wife, Liza, a bookseller at Breakwater books, suggested the book could work well as an alphabet book—”My father had written seven of the chapters already, and so seven are his and 19 of them are mine.”

Help from the Children

Fixx was named head of school at The Country School in 2014.

“With support from teachers in grades kindergarten through 5th, I visited classrooms and talked about the subject matter with students. Not only was I trying to find out what age level and ability seem to be the sweet spot for the book, but I needed some help understanding a child’s perspective with words like breath and fog and memory and gravity. I’m indebted to those colleagues for giving me class time to work with their students,” he says. “I have a number of great memories from those months. One example is when I was asking for help with clues for the word ‘darkness.’ One of the students suggested that darkness is what blind people see all the time. I never would have come up with that on my own.”

He says Abby Carter, the book’s illustrator, incorporated one of his mother’s sketches into her illustrations.

“It was a total joy to work with Abby and to see the way she was able to take and enliven the manuscript with her sketches. I am in awe of her art ability and creativity,” he says.

Publisher Walter Foster, Jr., says “The Curious Guide to Things That Aren’t features thoughtful riddles—one for each letter of the alphabet—paired with engaging illustrations that reveal and explain the answer. Each spread features a riddle with several clues about an intangible item, such as air, breath, and jokes. Kids then have to figure out the answers through detective work and a little creative reasoning. The clues on each page progress from challenging, more abstract clues to a simple, final clue that encourages the reader to turn the page to discover the answer. The book covers a broad range of themes, from science, language arts, social studies, math, music, and art. The Curious Guide to Things That Aren’t teaches creative thinking through deductive reasoning, listening skills, and imagination.”

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