Move over Barney. There's a new guy in town, capturing the hearts and imaginations of children. Only this webbed wonder is not make-believe. He's real.
"I'm Herman's father," Joe Scovazzo of Spring Hill boasted last week to a group of first-graders. "He really thinks he's a person.
"Quack, quack, quack," said Scovazzo, imitating the duck.
Actually, Herman is an Indian Runner, a breed that originated in southern China about 300 years ago. The mostly brown, black and white bird is known for its docile nature and underwater diving ability.
Scovazzo purchased Herman at a feed store 11 years ago, and since then the two have developed a peculiar father-son relationship. Recently, at the suggestion of his brother, Scovazzo wrote a 26-page short story in which he explains how he came to meet Herman and describes his experiences with the pet duckling.
Herman follows Scovazzo everywhere _ to the park, the beach, the store and lately to guest appearances at schools and bookstores.
Thanks to the popularity of the story, Herman the Indian Runner, Scovazzo said people are lining up to buy copies. Friends, neighbors and even strangers have shown up at the author's home in Lake in the Woods, where Herman roams freely and can often be seen floating in Scovazzo's swimming pool.
Libraries, bookstores and the Ohio hatchery where Herman originated have also requested copies, which cost $5 and include pictures of Herman and illustrations drawn by Scovazzo's wife, Josephine.
"Before I knew it, 200 (copies of the book) were (sold)," said Scovazzo. He and Herman are scheduled to make a guest appearance at Books-A-Million on U.S. 19 in Port Richey at 10:30 a.m. Nov. 29.
Librarian Alice Preece of Notre Dame Interparochial School in Spring Hill said students' response to the story has been overwhelming. She said one reason is because it features local landmarks such as Pine Island.
"I said Pine Island, and they said, "Oh, I've been there,' " she said. "The other books are things you read about but never see."
There's an even simpler reason why 6-year-old Michelle Ceitan likes the story. "It's the duck," the first-grader said.
This is not the first time a new author in Hernando County has scored big with a short story set in local surroundings.
In March, Lila Bowman of Aripeka wrote a 48-page short story, Mystery in Aripeka, about a girl who overhears two men talking about what she thinks is a scheduled drug delivery. Bowman sold more than 175 copies of her story and helped raise $1,113 for the Aripeka Public Library.
Scovazzo's short story has already outsold Bowman's by nearly 100 copies. But some question whether a story about a duck can have lasting appeal.
"How much can you write about a duck?" asked Preece. "(Scovazzo) may have to broaden his horizons."
He is, sort of. Scovazzo is contemplating a sequel about Herman _ a first-person narrative in which the duck tells his own life story.
If it all seems a little quacked up, it may be because Scovazzo planned it that way.
"I love that little guy so much," Scovazzo said. "(Herman's) going to be with me for the next 45 years. He's in the will."
Anyone wanting to purchase a copy of Joe Scovazzo's book, Herman the Indian Runner, may call Scovazzo at (352) 596-5178. The cost is $5.