El Paso man pens book on flood safety

By Emily Van Zandt Originally Published May 19, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated May 17, 2013 at 12:08 p.m.
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Nick Hillemann

Johnny Mullens is an El Paso resident who wrote a children’s book on flood safety. He’s currently working on his second book, which will be about weather as well.

Johnny Mullens can remember the exact moment he decided he was going to write a children’s book.

It was Dec. 26, 2011, and he was driving home from visiting his aunt in Oklahoma over the holidays. He had stopped at a restaurant in Fort Smith and started scrawling notes for what would eventually become his first book, Johnny’s Family Goes Camping.

The book — available in print and e-book form on Amazon.com — is a combination of two of Mullens’ major interests: weather and learning. The book tells the story of Johnny, Sandy and their parents, who plan a camping trip at Bull Creek Campground. The family makes plans for what to do in case of a sudden flood, and the techniques they talk about help teach readers — and children listening to the story — about flood safety.

“I taught Sunday School for many years, and I’m a fan of multi-generational learning,” Mullens said. “People pick up on something more when they’re teaching someone else.”

Mullens, who works for the Arkansas Department of Human Services, said he hopes parents will get just as much out of the lessons in the book as kids will. As a certified flood-plain manager and a certified storm spotter, Mullens had already done countless hours of research on weather and floods over the years. Ask him a question about nearly any major flood in the United States — even as far back as the 1800s — and Mullens can recall at least a few facts.

While reading about the flooding that occurred following Hurricane Katrina, Mullens began to notice that not much was being done in the way of flood education for kids. A book, he thought, could help fill the gap and pass along to kids a few essential facts about flood safety.

“The most important thing is to know your weather before you go out camping and to know the history of a place and how it floods,” Mullens said.

The book includes information on flash floods, weather radios, flood-plain maps and the importance of not trying to drive in high water, mostly told through conversations with the young children in the story and their father.

Living all his life on his family’s land near El Paso, Mullens is familiar with Bull Creek, which runs through his property. His own history with flood plains, along with 15 hours a week of interviews and research, allowed him to complete the book in just a few months. He based much of the story on his own childhood, naming the character Sandy after his sister, who died in 2001.

“Hopefully, this will inspire someone else to write,” Mullens said.

Mullens also hopes to inspire readers to do more research on flooding. The back of the book includes a list of resources Mullens used in his research, which he hopes people will check out for more information.

“I learned something new every week when I was writing,” Mullens said.

With one book under his belt, Mullens has started work on his second book, about kids with atmophobia, or the fear of bad weather.

Just a few days after his book was printed, Mullens volunteered to read it aloud to a group of kids at Bale Elementary School in Little Rock. It isn’t money that will be Mullens’ high-water mark for the book. He just hopes kids will respond.

“I hope they say they learned something,” Mullens said. “Maybe they’ll go home and tell their parents something about floods.”

Staff writer Emily Van Zandt can be reached at (501) 399-3688 or evanzandt@arkansasonline.com.

Staff Writer Emily Van Zandt can be reached at 501-399-3688 or emily@syncweekly.com.

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