Book Review

Photo by Arnold Christian

A Port Jefferson welcome

Members of the community, including Mayor Margot Garant, came out for a book signing and meet and greet with author Nicole J. Christian (in blue dress) at Z Pita in Port Jefferson on Oct. 29. Christian was in town to promote her new book, “How to Consult, Coach, Freelance and Gig: Gaining financial independence by doing what you know and what you love.” 

Above, the St. James author with her latest book. Photo by Heidi Sutton
Family through the prism of stained glass

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

Claire Nicolas White shares her family’s journey in the art of stained glass in her very engaging Five Generations Painting With Light.  

The book opens with a crisply written introduction followed by a succinct and informative history of stained glass. White’s eloquent prose defines her connection in a sharp parallel to the compositions that are to be explored: “Mine is a strange inheritance, transparent, ablaze with light in all colors, breakable, but precious.”

Above, the St. James author with her latest book. Photo by Heidi Sutton

The history details the materials, construction and sites of the pieces as well as the fact that the creation of stained glass today is much the same as it was over a thousand years ago. The nobility as well as the dangers of the trade are also touched upon. The intersection of necessity, art, folklore and fantasy are at its heart. It should be remembered that the windows often served as a method of ecclesiastical communication, telling biblical stories and imparting scriptural themes.

From there, White traces her family history, beginning with her Dutch great-grandfather, artist François Nicolas. His son Charles Nicolas then focused on the business aspects and managing the Nicolas glass studio. White’s father, Joep Nicolas, first rebelled from the family business, but, after studying philosophy and art history, he found that “painting with light remained irresistible.” Joep married Suzanne, an artist with similar if complementary tastes. Joep was highly successful and his work could be seen not just in churches but in assorted businesses and educational institutions, — “square miles of glass.”  

White and her sister, Sylvia, were born in northern Holland but, with the advent of Hitler, Joep moved his family to the United States. It was here that White and Sylvia learned their father’s skill: “I won’t leave you a fortune, but I will have taught you a profession.” Sylvia continued in the work while White found a career as a writer and art critic, publishing everything from poetry to fiction to biography. After leaving the world of graphic design, Sylvia’s son, Diego Semprun Nicolas, took up the family mantle, completing the five generations.  

Throughout, White paints a clear picture of her family, plentiful in detail and event. She manages to evoke their personalities in quick, vivid strokes. The descriptions are colorful and entertaining, revealing the highs and lows, the conflicts and the triumphs.

In addition, White has wonderful insight into the history of art and the artistic temperament. She discusses her father’s seeing his work in musical terms, a strong and vivid metaphor. She quotes her sister’s approach to art as a whole: “Glass is great … but I need to tell tales, religious tales, but also legends, myths. The iconography is inspiring. Life is like a tapestry. You’re influenced by what you’re exposed to and use what you need.”

The book is beautifully enhanced by the many photos of stained glass. It is a delight to see the evolution of the artists through their works and from generation to generation. As Joep stated: “Whoever has been given the spirit, the will, the talent, let him tackle this art form; glass is a willing substance that God had not for nothing allowed us to discover.” Claire Nicolas White has given us an absorbing glimpse into this world of unusual masterpieces.

Claire Nicolas White is an acclaimed American poet, novelist and translator of Dutch literature. She is the granddaughter-in-law of architect Stanford White. Her sister, Sylvia Nicolas, designed and installed all the stained glass in Sts. Philip and James R.C. Church in St. James.

Meet the author at a Master Class at the Ward Melville Heritage Organization’s Educational & Cultural Center, 97P Main St., Stony Brook as she discusses her latest book, ‘Five Generations Painting with Light’ on Oct. 23 from 1 to 2:30 p.m. The event is free and refreshments will be served. Call 631-689-5888 to reserve a spot.

 

 

 

Book Revue in Huntington hosted a book-signing event for Whoopi Goldberg on Oct. 11. The host of “The View” was in town to promote her latest book, “The Unqualified Hostess.” Hundreds of fans lined up to have their copy signed by the award-winning actress and comedian, best known for her roles in “The Color Purple,” “Sister Act,” “Ghost” and as Guinan in “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” Goldberg took the time to speak with each fan before taking candid photos.

Photos by Heidi Sutton

Keynote speaker Erika Swyler will discuss her writing process at the event at 2:30 p.m. Photo by Photo by Nina Subin

By Melissa Arnold

From its bustling theater scene to scores of local artists, photographers and writers, Long Island has always been a hot spot for creative types. Book reviews and interviews with local authors are a regular part of our Arts & Lifestyles coverage, and many of the Island’s libraries are proud to offer a collection of stories written by people from the area.

At the Port Jefferson Free Library, the annual Local Author Fair allows writers of all genres to meet readers, share their work and even make some new friends. This year’s fair, held Saturday, Oct. 5, will welcome more than 20 authors for an afternoon of reading and conversation.

Now in its 5th year, the fair began as a response to the large number of local writers approaching the library looking to publicize their books.

“The library hosted author panels in the past for writers to talk about the writing and publication process together,” explained Salvatore Filosa, marketing and outreach librarian at the Port Jefferson Free Library. “We’re constantly given books to add to our collection of local authors. In fact, area writers approached the library so frequently we thought it would be a good idea to have an event where people not only come to see an author they know, but to meet other authors whose work they might not be familiar with.”

Each author that appears at the fair has their own dedicated space to promote and sell their work. While book signings may leave an author rushing to get to each person on line, the fair provides ample opportunity for authors to take questions, chat and browse other tables.

This year’s keynote speaker, Erika Swyler, is a native Long Islander whose nationally best-selling work has earned acclaim from Buzzfeed to the New York Times.

“I try not to get myself tied down to one particular genre,” said Swyler, author of The Book of Speculation. “I’m a very curious person and I’m interested in a lot of different things.”

Swyler’s writing career blossomed from her time in acting school, where she emerged as a playwright. It was a natural progression, said the author, who yearned for the chance to dig deeper into a character’s thoughts and feelings. Two novels later, she credits her success to dogged perseverance and a thick skin when it comes to rejection.

At the fair, Swyler will discuss her writing process and read an excerpt from her newest release, Light From Other Stars, which blends sci-fi with literary fiction and shades of horror in a coming-of-age tale.

“Long Island has its own unique and powerful culture that sets it apart. I love meeting other people in the area who are pursuing creativity,” Swyler said. “Living a creative life is difficult, and it’s important to develop a sense of community to remember that we’re all in this together.”

Stephanie Kepke of Plainview has been a part of the fair since its second year and enjoys returning annually to make new connections.

“I love this event because it’s a great way to meet readers, and it’s always wonderful to get to   hear from wonderful keynote speakers as well,” she said. “I find that often people will come to meet a specific author and then discover others in the process.”

Kepke was an English major before beginning a lengthy career in journalism and public relations. She dabbled in fiction all the while and began sharing stories with the world in 2015. Her work, which she describes as “women’s fiction with heart, humor and a dash of spice,” includes two novellas — A New Life and You and Me — and a novel titled Goddess of Suburbia.

“I’m so grateful to get my words out into the world, and it means so much when people come up and talk about how much our work has impacted them. The fair is an unparalleled way to come out and really talk to authors. We all want to meet everyone who comes to see us, and for me it doesn’t even matter if you buy my books. It’s about making connections,” she said.

In addition to the keynote from Swyler, a few of the authors will also have the chance to give 5-minute “lightning talks.” Visitors should be sure to visit as many tables as possible, collecting signatures from authors as they go. The more signatures you get, the more chances you’ll have to enter the day’s raffle. Winners will receive a bag of Port Jefferson Free Library merchandise and a signed copy of Swyler’s latest book.

“It’s very easy today for people to search for a book online and buy it, but getting to read something written by a local author who you get to meet and talk to gives you the chance to make a more personal investment in their work,” Filosa said. “It’s always a joy to watch people discover new authors and new books from this event.”

Participating authors:

Erika Swyler
Mindy Kronenberg
L L  Cartin
Ralph Brady
Joseph E. Vitolo
Lorraine Stacy
Mike Virgintino
Liz  Macchio
Celeste Williams
Lisa Scuderi-Burkimsher
Stephanie Kepke
Larry McCoy
Peter Busacca
Marilyn London
Oswaldo Jimenez
Erick Alayon
Jack  Batcher
TRACI Wendler
Marianne  Schwartz
Roland Allnach
Catherine Asaro

Sponsored by the Friends of the Port Jefferson Free Library, the 5th annual Local Author Fair will be held on Saturday, Oct. 5 from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Port Jefferson Free Library, 100 Thompson St., Port Jefferson. Admission is free. For further information, call 631-473-0022.

The cover of Jungle Bob's first book.

Reviewed by Heidi Sutton

Above, author Jungle Bob with the inspiration for his first book, a legless lizard.

Robert “Jungle Bob” Smith’s lifelong passion has been to learn everything he can about reptiles and amphibians. With a wealth of knowledge he has made it his mission to educate the public about these fascinating but mostly misunderstood creatures. The owner of Jungle Bob’s Reptile World in Selden and Oakdale presents hundreds of educational shows on Long Island every year and has a healthy following on YouTube.

Now the entrepreneur and educator can add author to his resume with the release of “Lenny … A Most Unusual Reptile,” the first in a series of children’s books with an anti-bullying message that teaches us that “our differences are what make us so unique.” Resembling a comic strip, the paperback also doubles as a coloring book with illustrations by Steve Sabella. I recently had the opportunity to interview Jungle Bob as he prepares for a book signing in Huntington on Oct. 3.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

My family is from Hells Kitchen in Manhattan, but I grew up in West Babylon, which is my alma mater. I currently live in Islip Terrace.

When did you realize you had a special love for animals, especially reptiles? 

It was when I first moved to West Babylon at age 6. Being from Manhattan everything was new to me, even grass and trees, but it was the wildlife that I couldn’t get enough of. West Babylon was more rural back in those days.

What was your favorite place to visit as a child?

My favorite place to go as a child was the pond down the block from my house, Beaver Lake. It was there that I encountered reptiles, amphibians, fishing, ice skating and first experienced the outdoors in general.

What was your favorite children’s book?

My mom was always reading to me as a child and there were many, but “Curious George” sticks out. Reading to my three kids, “Good Night Moon” was a favorite.

Aside from operating your pet stores, what else do you like to do?

Jungle Bob has performed over 1,000 educational shows in the area since opening 10 years ago. That has kept me pretty busy! I love the outdoors. Long Island has so many great places to hike. In the summer you can find me on any of the South Shore beaches, playing my favorite game Frisbee, which I am quite accomplished in. I am also a traveler with over 50 trips overseas, all in search of unusual wildlife and the outdoors.

What is your favorite animal?

A snake. Hands down. The first animal I ever captured was a garter snake in my front yard. I had been in the neighborhood for only a few days and didn’t connect with the local kids yet. One day I heard a scream from the other side of the hedges and this snake came slithering through to my side. I inexplicably picked it up just in time for all the locals to see as they had circled around the hedges to follow it. I was an instant celebrity. Then it bit me, and I was instantly cool. Luckily garter snakes aren’t venomous but I had no idea what species I was holding; it just fascinated me in the way it moved. It didn’t blink, it was smoother than it looked, and the kids were mesmerized. My dad was a WWII veteran and a NYC cop and he ran for his gun! My mother was praying in Italian! They had all the fake facts about snakes. I have been hooked ever since.

Did you have many pets growing up?

We had cats mostly, as my mom liked them, but in the basement I always had snakes, turtles and frogs.

What inspired you to write this book?

Reptiles truly suffer from fake news. Myths associated with them have survived for centuries, all the way back to the Bible in fact. And I saw this misinformation then seep into children’s books. Why are they always creepy, crawly and up to no good? I correct those misnomers in every lecture but then decided to go one step further and make a factual children’s book to reinforce the truth. Lenny was born.

How long have you been working on it?

Ten years! This book has been on my things to do list for a decade! I decided to just finish it in 2019 as a New Year’s resolution.

What is the book about?

Although the goal was to paint reptiles in the proper light, the book is about anti-bullying. We use animals instead of people to point out how wrong it is to make fun of someone else because they are different and acknowledge that not only is it okay to be different … it may work out to your advantage!

Tell us about the main character, Lenny. What kind of lizard is he and where does his species live?

Lenny is a reptile known as a legless lizard. There are many species of these around the globe. Steve and I modeled the drawing after the Russian/Eastern European legless, but the story takes place in more familiar turf: Florida. There are legless lizards there too.

What other creatures are represented in the book? 

There are snakes, who are the antagonists to Lenny; a tortoise who is wise and helpful; a raccoon and an owl who are the “bad guys,” more appropriately predators; and another legless lizard named Lena who befriends Lenny and sets him straight about who he is.

Why did you pick the topic of bullying?

It wasn’t the forethought 10 years ago, but it clearly emerged as the topic after my many many edits over the years. I watched kids get bullied in my youth and no one ever stepped in to help. It’s a horrible thing to do and this is just one more way to reinforce how wrong it is.

What message do you hope to pass on?

I hope that all aged readers (parents for sure) learn something new about our natural world, like the differences between snakes and lizards, and that all these unusual animals aren’t evil in any way and that reptiles are often the victims of mammals and birds, not the other way around.

How cool that you decided to make it a coloring book also.

We figured they would just sell in the stores and the kids could bring in their work to show me! We are making individual sheets of certain pages for that and plan to hang them on the walls of the stores.

What kind of feedback have you gotten?

Of course it appeals to all reptile enthusiasts but every parent who picked it up has said something positive about the anti-bullying message, the quality of the drawings, the coloring book aspect, etc.

Is the book self-published?

Yes it is. It was fairly painless actually, once we understood the limitations of printing something in a short run and the costs involved in general we got it done fairly quickly.

What advice would you give to someone who is writing their first book?

Get it done! Make time away from all other daily interruptions. My excuse is running a retail business with live inventory for 10 years. It distracted me to say the least.

Who is your target audience ?

This book is geared for 3- to 7-year-olds plus parents and grandparents, who tend to know the least about reptiles.

What will your next book be about?

It’s a secret, but anyone who has seen my shows knows the cast of characters I travel with! Castro the Cuban iguana, Jabba the African bullfrog, Rosie the tarantula and a dozen more should all have a book about them.

“Lenny … A Most Unusual Reptile” is available at Jungle Bob’s Reptile World in Selden at 984 Middle Country Road, in Oakdale at 4130 Sunrise Highway, online at www.JungleBobsReptileWorld.com and at Book Revue, 313 New York Ave., Huntington. Meet Jungle Bob along with Lenny the Lizard and friends at a book signing event at Book Revue (631-271-1442) on Oct. 3 at 6 p.m.

Please note: This article has been updated to reflect a change in the time for the book signing.

Laura Schroff

Author Talk

New York Times best-selling author of “An Invisible Thread” Laura Schroff will make an appearance at Jefferson’s Ferry, One Jefferson Ferry Drive, South Setauket on Thursday, Sept. 26 at 2 p.m. Schroff will speak about “Small Acts of Kindness: The Power of Sharing Kindness, Changing Lives and Exploring the Invisible Threads That Connect Us All.” All are welcome to attend this free event. Call 631-253-8585 to register.

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Reviewed by Melissa Arnold

Barbara Lynn Greif

Barbara Lynn Greif has spent her whole life creating art in varying forms and used her skills to launch an award-winning advertising agency here on Long Island. Greif also earned accolades in 2012 when she wrote and illustrated her first children’s book, “Born From the Heart,” about her journey to adopt her first daughter, Victoria, from China. Since then, the Huntington resident has adopted a second daughter, Gianna, whose kind spirit inspired Greif to write “Gianna’s Magical Bows,” an imaginative and sweet rhyming story about helping others.

Were you always artistic?

Yes, my father, who also had artistic talent, taught me how to paint at age 6, and we discovered that I had a real gift for it. From that point on, all that I could think about was painting and drawing, and I was empowered to excel as an artist.

You have a background in fine art. What did you hope to do for a career?

I had a childhood dream of becoming a cartoonist and painter. I even created my own cartoon strips, which I envisioned would someday appear in newspapers across the country.

I carried all of these artistic aspirations from elementary school through high school. It led me to go to one of the best design colleges in the country, the renowned Parsons School of Design in New York City. At Parsons, I was able to explore all of my options for a career in art and design. I chose to study communication design and earned a bachelor’s of fine arts degree.

I had to face the reality that painting would not be a lucrative career direction to take. My studies in communication design helped me to refine my skills and become a graphic designer in the advertising field.

After graduating college, I had a variety of jobs in Manhattan — a graphic designer, a product and package designer, a toy designer and an art director. After gaining all of this experience, I was ready to pursue my dream of opening my own full-service advertising agency on Long Island, which I called The Sketching Pad.

How did writing fit into your life?

Writing played a big role for me working in advertising. I was the copywriter for all of the ads created for my clients at my agency — I wrote the text for all of the print ads and television commercials.

What inspired you to write for children?

I dabbled in the effort to write a children’s book during my time running The Sketching Pad, but I didn’t actually pursue it until after my husband and I adopted our first child, Victoria, from China in 2003. The experience of traveling back and forth to China and the whole adoption process was so heartwarming, and it inspired me to write and illustrate “Born From the Heart.” The process of telling Victoria’s story created a new passion in me for creating children’s books.

When did you decide to write this book?

I decided to write and illustrate “Gianna’s Magical Bows” a few years after my husband and I adopted our second child, Gianna, from China. We adopted her at age 3 in 2012. When Gianna saw that I wrote and illustrated a book for my older daughter, Victoria, she told me that she wanted me to write and illustrate a book about her, too.

Gianna is a very caring and giving person who loves to wear a bow in her hair every day. She loves to help people in need — her kindhearted nature is magical. I wanted to base the story on Gianna’s desire to help people out of the goodness of her heart. If she had magical powers, I know she would help everyone in the world.

What is your creative process like?

First I write the story, then I illustrate the pictures. “Gianna’s Magical Bows” took me three months to write and two years to illustrate. When writing a children’s book, I only write in rhyme. It comes very naturally to me, and once I start the writing process it seems to flow very easily. When I’m done with writing the story, I picture in my mind what illustrations would look best for each page, then do rough drawings before working on the final illustrations. I like my illustrations to be bold and colorful.

What message do you hope to pass on to the reader?

I hope children who read “Gianna’s Magical Bows” will strive to be helpful to others and to get along with people, no matter what race, color or religion that they may be.

Is there an ideal age for this book?

The book is meant for ages 6 and up, but I hope that adult readers will enjoy it, too.

Do you hope to continue writing?

Yes, I hope to continue writing and illustrating children’s books. It is one of my passions. I look forward to getting started on my next book soon.

Where can this book be purchased?

The book can be purchased through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Xlibris Publishers. It is available in print and as an e-book.

Reviewed by Leah Chiappino

Many Long Islanders have come to think of the former state psychiatric hospitals as mere eyesores, or frankly nuisances, as they are often sites for horror seekers and rebellious teenagers to trespass. However, as told by Joseph M. Galante, a former state hospital worker, in his new book “Long Island State Hospitals,” the mental health facilities were once practically their own metropolis. The book is a part of the Images of America series from Arcadia Publishing.

In the late 1800s, the city of New York transferred a few dozen patients to what was then called the St. Johnland farm colony, in hopes they would benefit from an outdoor experience. Another facility was opened in Central Islip, and in 1931 Pilgrim State was constructed to house the growing population of the mentally ill on Long Island.

Above, common features at all the state hospitals were the ornate stone buildings and neatly manicured grounds. The early 1900s image shows one of the buildings at Kings Park State Hospital in its heyday. 

The intake grew so large that Pilgrim State holds the record for the world’s largest psychiatric facility, with nearly 15,000 patients by 1955. Galante states the hospital’s principles focused on moral therapy, and they are “remembered for their legacy of humility, beneficence and a devotion to the mentally ill.” He assures readers practices like electrotherapy were only used in extreme cases, contrary to the commonly held belief that the patients were treated inhumanely.

This seems to be true from the beginning of its history. The St. Johnland facility had its name changed to Kings Park in 1891 and in 1898 graduated its first class of nurses. By then, each hospital had many independent medical surgical buildings, stores, powerhouses, a full-scale farm and ward buildings. The institutions became so self-sustainable that they produced as much as two-thirds of the food consumed there.

The Kings Park facility even had what they called York Hall, where patients would watch movies, play basketball, perform shows and attend functions. The facility also had its own water tower, railroad station, space for masonry work, independent fire and police force and the Veterans Memorial Hospital, which was a group of 17 buildings used to treat veterans that came home from World War I with mental conditions.

The staff at Kings Park provided 24-hour care to patients and worked 12-hour days, 6 days a week prior to the start of the 20th century. Men earned between $20 and $40 a month, while women earned between $14 and $18. They were granted uniforms, rubber coats and boots, food, laundry services, lodging and “chicken and candy every Sunday.”

Patients were encouraged to work within the facility, but were not forced. When they were not working, they engaged in social and recreational events, as well as attended medical clinics and occupational and psychiatric therapies. Up until the 1940s, there was an emphasis on dance, music, art and cooperative activities as a form of therapy.

Ultimately, the book shows a refreshing portrait of three institutions that were such an instrumental part of Long Island’s history. Pictures range from the 1925 Kings Park Fireman Squad to a heartwarming photo of nurses at Central Islip celebrating the 105th birthday of a woman with no family who received no visitors for decades.

There are also many photos of recreational activities, including a holiday celebration for patients wearing party hats, which masks the ominous bars on the window in the background.

Anyone who has ever driven around the Nissequogue River State Park, and has a feeling of curiosity about what was once there should without fail pick up the book, which provides a productive answer to curiosity, without the reader breaking a trespassing ordinance.

“Long Island State Hospitals” is available locally where books are sold and online at www.arcadiapublishing.com.

Images courtesy of Arcadia Publishing

The cover of Kim Marino's first book.

Reviewed by Melissa Arnold

Above, a little girl enjoys reading ‘Sloths Are Slow.’

As a mother of four busy children and a full-time speech pathologist, Kimberly Marino of Miller Place is constantly thinking about kids. In particular, she’s passionate about engaging children in conversation, interaction and learning. In May, she published her first children’s book, “Sloths Are Slow.” 

Marino has crafted an entertaining and accessible rhyming story about a sloth named Lento (which means “slow” in Spanish) and his rain forest friends. Along the way, readers will learn some interesting facts about sloths while practicing counting, gestures, following directions and more. 

The book is visually stunning as well, featuring artwork by Mariya Stoyanova. It is the perfect pick for sneaking some developmental skills into story time.

Were you a creative child? Did you always want to be a writer?

I never really thought much about writing as a kid, but I was always creative. I liked to draw. My mind is always working and I’m always coming up with ideas. My friend and I actually invented a language game for kids that we were able to sell, so there is definitely a creative spark inside of me.

What did you study in college, and where did you end up working?

I went to school for elementary education at a small school in Pennsylvania called Lock Haven University, and then I got a master’s in speech from Hofstra. I now provide speech services through a company called Metro Therapy. I also work with children from birth through age 3 through Suffolk County Early Intervention.

The cover of Kim Marino’s first book.

What inspired you to write a children’s book?

I’ve had the idea in the back of my head for a long time. Being a speech pathologist means I’m always thinking about language and helping kids develop their language acquisition skills. When my kids were little, they loved a Sesame Street book called “There’s a Monster at the End of This Book.” The main character was [the furry blue Muppet] Grover, and it was very interactive. I knew I wanted to do something like that, to teach parents how to read a book with their kids in an interactive, engaging way. You can learn to be interactive not just with this book, but with any book. There really aren’t a lot of tools out there that teach those skills. I’ve gotten a lot of great feedback from parents who tell me their kids are more excited about listening to the story because of its interactive features.

Did you have any reservations about writing the book?

Honestly, no. Once the idea was in my head, I said to myself, “I’m going to do this.” And that was it.

Why sloths?

My daughter, Katie, has always had a deep passion for all creatures, down to the tiniest bugs. She’s really into sloths, and is always sharing random facts about sloths with me. I thought it was interesting and would make for a fun story.

What was the publishing process like for you?

I started by hiring an illustrator to create the pictures that would go along with the text. My sister-in-law is a graphic artist and editor, basically a jack of all trades, so she was able to help me get the book published on Amazon. It was an easy process for me, but only because I had her help — I wouldn’t have known where to start without her! Getting the first copy was super exciting. I couldn’t believe it. When I started to write the story, I didn’t know what Lento would look like. To see him and the story brought to life in such a beautiful way was amazing to me.

What is the target age for this book?

I would encourage parents to introduce the book when their child is 1 year old by reading it to them and performing the interactive parts themselves. That’s how they learn — by watching you model behavior. But the target audience is for kids ages 3 to 6. 

What is GiGi’s Playhouse of Long Island, and what is your connection to the organization? 

Working as a speech pathologist has put me in touch with a lot of people that have Down syndrome, and you’ll often hear their families refer to themselves as “the lucky few.” There’s nothing down about having Down syndrome, and I wanted to be able to support and give back to the local Down syndrome community with this book. 

A few local moms are in the process of forming a Long Island chapter of GiGi’s Playhouse, a free center that provides speech, language, arts and life skills classes to help people with Down syndrome achieve their goals and function as typically as possible. The centers are run by volunteers who are passionate about the Down’s community, and a portion of the proceeds from “Sloths Are Slow” will go to the national GiGi’s Playhouse organization to support the upcoming Long Island center. They’re looking to open in the spring of 2020.

You dedicate this book to Thomas Scully. Tell us about him.

My friend, Debbie Scully, unfortunately, lost her son Thomas to brain cancer several years ago. I never met him, but the Miller Place community has worked so hard to honor his memory and legacy. Mentioning Thomas and the foundation in the back of the book is just my small way of showing my support for the family. You can learn more about Thomas and the foundation at www.thomasscullyfoundation.org.

What’s next for you? 

I actually have another book in the works called “Cows Don’t Belong in Houses,” inspired by a funny conversation with one of my young clients named Jackson. In his honor, I would want proceeds from that book to benefit cleft palate organizations. I’m also thinking about writing stories based on the other characters you meet in “Sloths Are Slow.”

The graphic novel ‘Twitcha’ was co-written by Smithtown’s Mary Gregorian.

There’s a new superhero entering the comic book world and she’s a teenage girl with Tourette syndrome. “Twitcha” is the brainchild of three teenage girls who illustrated and wrote the book based on their own experiences with the neurological disorder. NJ Center for Tourette Syndrome and Associated Disorders (NJCTS) published the book this spring.

During the summer of 2017, Sarah Baldwin of Mantua, New Jersey, Mary Gregorian of Smithtown, and Julie Nemerson of Northbrook, Illinois, attended the NJCTS Tim Howard Leadership Academy at Rutgers University. 

The academy is a four-day training for high school students that promotes self-advocacy, self-leadership, resilience and grit — all important skills to succeed while living with TS. As part of the academy, each teen completes a group project. Together the teens dreamed up a superhero that would be living with Tourette syndrome and facing the same struggles that they were, both emotionally and physically. 

“We spent hours each night in the dorms at Rutgers trying to create a character and a story that would empower other kids with TS,” said Gregorian who is a rising junior at Long Island University–Post. “It’s wonderful that our dream was able to take off into a reality.”

Twitcha’s tics are represented by the villain-turned-hero Misfire, who teams up with Dr. Sitstill to destroy anyone who wouldn’t conform to his idea of “normal.” But after their defeat, Misfire sees the error of her ways and teams up with Twitcha. The book will be used by NJCTS during Education Outreach presentations to elementary students, and lesson plans will be created so teachers can add “Twitcha” to their curriculum.

 “When we saw the first rough copy of ‘Twitcha,’ we loved the message,” said Faith Rice, executive director of NJCTS. “It’s truly a labor of love by three young ladies who understand the pain of stigma and isolation that many of our young people with Tourette syndrome face.” 

A digital copy of “Twitcha” is available on Amazon and hard copies are available for classrooms and libraries. Contact NJCTS at info@njcts.org or 908-575-7350 to request copies or visit www.njcts.org/twitcha.