Son inspires Marine, CU Boulder student to publish first children’s book

By Kenna Bruner


When Travis Nardi reads a bedtime story to his 2-year-old son, one of the boy’s top picks is Max Goes Surfing. Good thing it’s one of his favorites—his dad wrote the book and named the main character after him.


Not only did Nardi write the story, but he also drew the illustrations of the character Max learning to surf and having a fun adventure with a dolphin, shark and pelican.


“Max loves the book,” said Nardi, a University of Colorado Boulder sophomore studying creative writing and media and a Marine. “He thinks it’s about him. But he thinks all books are about him.”


Max Goes Surfing is Nardi’s first children’s book. He wrote it from his home in Boulder during the coronavirus pandemic. It was published in May.

Travis Nardi reads Max Goes Surfing to his 2-year-old son.

Becoming a published writer has long been a dream for Nardi. Growing up in Hawaii, he loved to surf. When he decided to write an adventure book for his son, he followed the conventional writing wisdom and wrote about something familiar.


“I thought it would be fun, so I decided to give it a shot,” he said. “Picking the right words, making sure it sounds right and has good rhythm. I wouldn’t say I’m a poet, but I wanted to make it sound good, have it be interesting with a lot of action, and include interactions with nature.”


But he didn’t stop there.


“I couldn’t just have words,” he said. “I had to have pictures. I cut out a bunch of photos from surfing magazines and added pictures of my son playing on the beach, swimming underwater and crouching in a surfing position.”


In high school, Nardi took a creative writing class and kept all the stories he wrote for class assignments. Those stories have inspired new, more polished tales.


In his creative writing courses at CU Boulder, Nardi learned the importance of making writing a daily habit. Using free-writing exercises, such as writing whatever comes to mind for a predetermined time without censoring, helps clear his mind and allows his imagination to roam unfettered.


“Another approach,” he said, “is to complete a sentence such as, ‘I am sorry but. . .’, which, as one may imagine could lead to infinite story directions. Most importantly, just write. CU has a good creative writing program.”


When Nardi began this self-publishing project, he simply wanted something fun to read to Max. Now, the book is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and he receives photos of strangers reading it to their children and grandchildren.


The next book in the Max series will probably be Max Goes Snowboarding, another sport Nardi enjoys.


Nardi’s background includes much more than academics. He has served in the U.S. Marine Corps for 12 years. He was stationed in Japan for two years and was deployed to the Middle East, Africa and Asia. After being stationed in San Diego, he and his wife, Christine, and Max moved to Colorado so Nardi could attend CU Boulder. He also came to Colorado for the mountains and the adventure activities, and the ROTC program.


Nardi, 30, is still an active-duty Marine staff sergeant while earning his bachelor’s degree. He has completed officer candidate school, which trains enlisted personnel to be commissioned as officers, and is now teaching and mentoring ROTC students at CU Boulder to help them prepare for officer candidate school. 


In addition to the Max books, Nardi wants to write the types of fiction he enjoys reading: adventure, science fiction and thrillers. He takes inspiration from writers Blake Crouch and Neal Stephenson, among others. With several years of military experiences to draw on, he plans to incorporate realistic scenarios into his writing. For Nardi, the art will be in making it come alive for the reader.


Just like making adventure real for Max.


Nardi’s son likes to high-five his dad when they get to a favorite part in the book:


“That’s when Max really starts rockin’


He slides down the line and high fives a dolphin.”


This blog originally appears on Colorado Arts and Sciences Magazine

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