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Children should delight in Sammy Snails tour of Tennessee

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Former Lebanon playwright Gene Embry holds a copy of his colorful children's book "Sammy Snail's Tennessee Adventures" as well as his ceramic Sammy Snail. He will be signing his book Nov. 14 at Sherlock's Book Emporium.

KEN BECK / The Wilson Post 

Ex-Lebanon playwright Gene Embry creates learning rhymesin children’s book

By KEN BECKSpecial to The Wilson Post

Gene Embry’s animated children’s book “Sammy Snail’s Tennessee Adventures” is as cute as a bug.

The former Lebanon playwright, now residing in Alabama, has conceived a plan so simple that it’s brilliant.

He’s taken a happy snail and helped him tour the most famous sites in the Volunteer State. As Sammy scoots from place to place in his red convertible snailmobile, he offers children a guided tour in rhyme.

For example: “To the Opry and Ryman, everyone came.And to the Country Music Hall of Fame.From Willie to Dolly, Loretta and Cash,All singing and playing. It’s a great bash!” 

The idea for his book came directly from customers when he managed a Lebanon bookstore.

“When I started working at Book Market at the Prime Outlet Mall, it was almost on a daily basis that people would come in and want a children’s book on Tennessee, especially people that were traveling and going back home,” said Embry, 54.

“I thought to myself, ‘Somebody needs to write that book. Well, by George, I’ll write it.’ So I started out with Tennessee, and then my daughter Misty said, ‘Daddy, I’ll illustrate it for you.’”

Embry will sign copies of his book 1-4 p.m. Saturday at Sherlock’s Bookstore in Lebanon.

Sammy Snail’s adventures create a good learning experience for children as they see the state flower, bird and tree. Between the pages, they glean knowledge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Chattanooga’s famous choo-choo, Rock City, Lookout Mountain and the Tennessee Aquarium. Tots will hear of the musical heritage that emanates from Graceland and Beale Street in Memphis and read that Lebanon is home base of the Cracker Barrel Old Country Stores and find out about Thomas House Hotel in Red Boiling Springs in Macon County.

Meet the author Gene Embry will sign copies of “Sammy Snail’s Tennessee Adventures” 1-4 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 14, at Sherlock’s Book Emporium, 200 Maddox-Simpson Parkway, in Lebanon. For more info, call 449-9807. Enjoy his playsEmbry wrote and will direct the play “Vicky’s Christmas Vittles” for the Thomas House Hotel in Red Boiling Springs on Dec. 4-5, 11-12 and 18-19. His daughter, Misty Embry of Lebanon, wrote “Obituary Club” and will direct it (Cindy Reavis co-directs) at the same venue Nov. 13-14 and 20-21. This is a dinner theatre that features an all-you-can-eat buffet and play. Cost is $25, plus tax. Dinner is served at 7 p.m., followed by the play. Reservations are required (615-699-3006). Inspiration for Embry’s original Sammy Snail books blossomed abut eight years ago through his friendship with DiAnna Boyd, then a guidance counselor at Coles Ferry Elementary School.

“After the death of her son and my friend Blake, I persuaded DiAnna to come and help us at Sound and Light Theatre. She asked me if I’d be interested in writing a Christmas play for her kids and help her direct. So I did, and I loved it,” the writer and director said.

“The school at that time, as up to now, teaches ‘Character Counts’ in the guise of such characteristics as respect, citizenship, etc. I thought it would be neat write a book on each ‘Character Counts’ word to help the children understand it better. So with DiAnna’s help and guidance, I wrote them.”

Embry had been given a small ceramic snail years ago, which he named Sammy. As he began writing the books on becoming responsible citizens, he did so through the character Sammy Snail. Those books were never published, but the seed had germinated.

The author, who lived in Lebanon from 1985 to 2008, wrote numerous plays for the local community theater, the defunct Sound and Light Company. He currently writes, directs and produces dinner theater at the Thomas House Hotel in Red Boiling Springs.

Embry and his wife Theresa raised four children in Lebanon: Sarah McKay, Brandon Parker, Misty Embry and Kerrie Embry; and they continue to live here as do the Embrys’ six grandchildren. 

“All my kids and grandkids are involved with the theater. It kind of gets in your blood,” said Embry, who used to love acting.

Born in Owensboro, Ky., he was a licensed mortician for 6-1/2 years. After moving to Lebanon, he worked as a floral designer for three years at Park Avenue Florist before operating his own shop, Flowers by Gene, for about 14 years. Afterward, he managed the Book Market at the Prime Outlet Mall for five years.

Embry has written, directed and produced about 20 plays, and more than half were produced in Lebanon. His biggest hit, “The Revival,” has played almost 300 performances. The Southern comedy centers on a small country church choir rehearsing on a Saturday afternoon for homecoming the next day, and none of the singers want to be there. The play has traveled the state and runs each February at the Thomas House Hotel to sell-out audiences.

The playwright has been associated with the Thomas House Hotel for six years. In December, he debuts “Vicky’s Christmas Vittles,” about a trailer-park chef who runs her own cooking school and who has Martha Stewart, Emeril and Paula Dean coming to help her cook the Christmas dinner.

“They love his comedy,” said Evelyn Cole, one of the owners of the Thomas House Hotel. “They laugh with him. He’s one of those people that just stands out with his personality. I heard about Gene from one of our guests and then called him and asked him to come up. So we got him and have hung onto him. He’s a good comedy writer.”

Embry, who is working on a new play, suffers from coronary heart disease and carpal tunnel in his hands, thus sometimes he dictates as his wife of 25 years transcribes the words.

Gene and Theresa live in Atmore, Ala., where she is the executive assistant to the CEO and president of Porch Creek Gaming, which operates Wind Creek Hotel and Casino on Interstate 65 between Montgomery and Mobile.

“Sammy Snail”, printed by Tubb Printing in Mt. Juliet, is published by Stagestruck Publication, Theresa’s company. Gene estimates about 2,500 copies are in print. The book retails for $10.

He will be speaking between now and Christmas at several Wilson County schools, including West Elementary and Southside Elementary, and The Hermitage will be carrying the book soon in its gift shop.

“Sammy Snail’s Tennessee Adventures” was published in July, and Embry will begin distributing “Sammy Snail’s Kentucky Adventure's” before Thanksgiving and is more than halfway finished with the snail’s adventures in Alabama.

“When I get done,” Embry said, “Sammy will have traveled all 50 states. I love history, but I can’t remember facts very well, But with poetry you can remember, especially kids. So that is why I went with rhyming in these books. If you can get kids to remember certain history facts at a young age, they will remember as they go.”

Writer Ken Beck may be contacted at kbtag2@gmail.com. 

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