"Reading to me is being able to travel without going anywhere," said Aertker, an Alexandria native. "So we can all go on vacation together as soon as we open page one."
He shared passages of his book "Brainwashed" to students in fourth through sixth grades on Thursday. It is the first in a series called Crime Travelers by Aertker, who now lives in Denver, Colo.
The mystery novel is about a boy who leads a group of international teenagers to Paris on a secret mission to stop a company from brainwashing children.
Aertker, a 1983 graduate of Holy Savior Menard Central High School, also is a former teacher and avid traveler. He used those experiences to emphasize the importance of reading.
He gave the students an example of the power of words by describing his experience as a teenager camping out in London to see the royal wedding between Prince Charles and Princess Diana.
He included details from street decorations to guards to Diana's wave from her window as she passed, and every student was silent with eyes locked on Aertker. He asked if they could see what he saw, and they said yes.
"You can take a couple of nouns and a couple of verbs and make pictures," he said.
Fellow Menard grad and Peabody Montessori Assistant Principal Kelly Fields invited Aertker to talk with students. She hopes books like his keep kids interested in reading.
"The way he has written it to appeal to this age group is extremely important," Fields said. "With boys this age myself, I know this is the age they usually drop off (from reading). This is the perfect opportunity for kids to be inspired."
Aertker said he writes for this age group because he relates to it.
"I act like a child," he said with a laugh. "My emotional level doesn't really go past age 11. For me to write for this age group is easy because I can get there pretty quick."
The students had read a few chapters of the book before the author's visit. They will finish reading "Brainwashed" and complete writing assignments about it.
"We want them not only to read and analyze the genre but also connect the literature with reading," Fields said. "It's so important to get them to love reading."