Larry Kimport will tell you candidly that he was not an avid reader or student as a kid. That all changed when Kimport joined the Army at 17 and ended up feeling lost and alone on a base in Louisiana. One weekend, stuck in the barracks, he grabbed a book for company and, literally overnight, became a voracious reader.

"It really changed my life, although I'm not sure I knew it at the time," said Kimport, 51, of Mount Holly, a teacher at Allentown High School in Monmouth County. "I do remember getting my first library card when I was in the Army."

Over the decades since, Kimport has not only remained a serious reader; he also has become a writer, with two books to his credit, the most recent a novel called

A Small Harvest of Pretty Days

(Foremost Press, $12.97).

A love story narrated by an elderly widow who meets a stranger, it's part mystery, part philosophy, and a nod to the 1890s in Central Pennsylvania.

Kimport's own life story reads like a novel. He's one of seven children of blue-collar parents in Pennsylvania's Susquehanna Valley. He went to Mansfield State College in Pennsylvania after service in the Army. He discovered a gravitational pull toward challenged students and earned a bachelor's degree in special education.

Then he served in the Peace Corps in Southeast Asia. "I worked on developing a home and school for challenged kids and experienced another part of the world. That's always really valuable," he said.

Back in the United States, he was visiting a friend in Woodbury when he saw an ad for a teaching position at the Children's Home in Mount Holly. He not only took the job; he also met and married the home's art therapist.

Despite the demands of teaching, now in an alternative education program for at-risk teens, Kimport also has been journaling and honing his writing skills for almost two decades.

"My first book was, frankly, terrible," said Kimport, the father of two college-age children. "But I didn't give up."

A second book, which was published, was a novella,

In the Kingdom of the Wilderness

, a Christmas story built around an examination of faith.

Over the years, Kimport kept revisiting what would become

A Small Harvest of Pretty Days

. The theme - a late chapter, as he imagined it, in the life of Huck Finn - came to him one night when he was walking his dog. Inspiration, Kimport knows, follows no schedule.

The choice of a female narrator who had served as a domestic with her daughter for a prominent small-town family evolved with a life of its own. The character and conversation of Clara was based on his paternal grandmother and a woman Kimport knew when he was a child.

Capturing the speech patterns of the era and locale was one of the challenges of the project. Another was a complete, paragraph-by-paragraph rewrite, which Kimport imposed on himself after the publisher suggested that the manuscript was promising but needed editing. Instead of hiring an editor to tackle the job, the author painstakingly did it himself.

"I'm pleased with the book, and pleased that it was accepted by the publisher," said Kimport, who is already at work on another. "This time, the locale is Southeast Asia, from my Peace Corps days, but the main character is someone from the New Jersey Pines. So this one should be fun to write, and, I hope, fun to read."

Book Signing

Author Larry Kimport will read from

A Small Harvest of Pretty Days

at the Swedesboro Public Library, 1442 Kings Highway, at 7 p.m. Tuesday. The book is available through

or by order at any major bookstore.