Book Review

‘This book is a love affair with seaside eating.’ 
—  from the Foreword by Gael Greene

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

Co-author Hillary Davis

Hillary Davis and Stacy Dermont have collaborated on a book that is more than just a collection of recipes. It is an engagingly written celebration of not just seasonal cooking but local sourcing. They have brought together multiple elements of Long Island and channeled them into a guide that is both entertaining and practical. The love for their home is furthered in its citing of neighborhood farms and businesses and the plethora of ingredients that they provide to make magic in the kitchen.

“Over many meals and food-oriented adventures,” writes Davis, “we came to the conclusion that we wanted to share what we love about this very special part of the world. … In the way we have chosen to live, we shop at our local farm stands and farmers’ markets for most or all of our fresh produce, as much to revel in the amazing quality and choice as to feel as if we are taking part in preserving our small-farm heritage.”  

This local-centric ideology is a passion for both writer-chefs and this clearly honest zeal continues throughout the book. Prior to each recipe there is a succinct and informative narrative piece: a personal anecdote or a slice of hyperlocal detail. Both authors pen in a homey narrative, as if they are sharing a bit of themselves as they prepare the plethora of repasts. Whether it’s a history of the ingredients or a “one time when” they enrich the entire reading experience.

In the first part of the book, there is a discussion about the importance of pairings of food to beverages. Their thesis is that they should amplify or contrast to enhance the meal. Davis and Dermont explain each and propose a local drink as complement.  Most often, there is a recommendation of a product from one of the 60 local wineries, 40 craft breweries, or one of the many distilleries or cideries. Sometimes, they simply advise an herbal tea. These details are a wonderful augmentation.

Co-author Stacy Dermont

The book proper is divided by seasons:  spring, low summer, high summer, fall and winter. Presented is a very detailed list of what is in season and when, a list that should be kept nearby throughout the year. There is even a plea for “Nothing Goes to Waste” with ideas for using remnants in making stock or composting.

Each section of the book contains small plates, salads, main courses and desserts. In the hundred recipes, there is  a nice mix of well-loved and new dishes as well as unique takes on popular favorites.

It is a tribute to the clarity of the writing that even the more complicated and challenging recipes are explained in such a way that novice cooks can accomplish them. They are given step by step with just the right amount of detail. There are also instructions on topics ranging from the roasting of garlic to the blanching of fresh bamboo shoots to the selection and cooking of clams. This is a wealth of knowledge, expertly shared. 

It would be impossible to highlight all of the wonderful choices that are on offer:  Potato Cheesecake with Caramel Crust, Kale Poppers, Blue Cheese Chicken with Strawberry Salsa, Long Island Duck Breasts with Duck Walk Vineyards Blueberry Port Sauce, BLT Macaroni Salad with Ham Crisps, So Many Tomatoes Sauce over Spaghetti Squash, Peconic Bay Scallops with Riesling Cream, Roasted Montauk Pearl Oysters, Wine Country Beef Stew, Cider-Poached Apples on a Cloud of Cider-Sweetened Ricotta … there is not just something for everyone — there is a bounty of culinary joys.

Special note should be made of the original photography by Barbara Lassen. Lassen’s keen eye brings the dishes to life in dazzling and vivid colors, further reminding us that there is a special multifaceted aesthetic involved in this entire process. 

Davis and Dermont’s The Hamptons Kitchen: Seasonal Recipes Pairing Land and Sea will make a wonderful addition to culinary libraries throughout the Island. But even more importantly, it will find its best home in kitchens for many years to come.

The cookbook is available online at Barnes & Noble and Amazon and will be in bookstores by April 7. For upcoming book signings, please visit www.thehamptonskitchen.com.

The cover jacket of Cucinello’s latest book

By Melissa Arnold

The author with her grandaughter Lia Paris when she was 5 years old.

Regardless of gender, age or hobbies, just about all kids are surrounded by “stuff” — games, toys, dolls and LEGOs are perennial favorites. Joanne Cucinello’s granddaughter, Lia Paris, was no exception in her younger years, her childhood bed literally overflowing with stuffed animals. It’s a cherished memory for Cucinello, a longtime poet, storyteller and resident of Port Jefferson. In late January, she published “Lia Paris Sleeps in a Zoo,” an adorable book for children that explores little Lia’s vivid imagination and those of her stuffed friends.

Tell me a bit about your upbringing. Were you creative as a child?

I grew up in Brooklyn and Queens, and came from a family of five children. I wound up being the caretaker of my younger brothers and sisters, whom I love very much. I ended up having five children myself!

When I was younger, we didn’t have much money, and we learned how to create things out of nothing. All of us were very resourceful and creative. I loved reading and writing, and I always had a pencil in my hand.  

When did you first start writing? Was it a part of your career?

I have probably 10 children’s stories that I’ve written so far, though this is the second one that I’ve published. I’m also a poet at heart — I’ve published a book of poems, and have a blog called “I See the Bridge” that I’ve been writing on since 2007. 

My husband and I had a few hair salons, first in Queens and then out here in Suffolk County. I also grew up cooking beside my mother, and ended up starting my own small catering business. When my children were grown, I partnered with my daughter Lisa to open up Tiger Lily Cafe in Port Jefferson. We’ve been in business for more than 20 years. 

What made you want to write for children?

I love all stories, but I especially enjoy fairy tales. I think they’re very important for children to listen to. Fairy tales can connect with a child on a very deep level. My first book, “Wanda the Wilopent,” is a fairy tale.

The cover jacket of Cucinello’s latest book.

What inspired you to write this book? Is it based on a true story?

It seems like today children never have just one favorite toy. There’s always more being added. That was the case with my first granddaughter, Lia. She and her parents lived with us for the first year of her life, and so I was able to be closely involved with her as a baby. She was a very sensitive child and very imaginative. She refused to put her stuffed animals in the closet, saying that they would start to miss her and cry. 

For a while, Lia and her younger sister, Simone, shared a bedroom. Eventually, her parents turned an office into a bedroom, allowing both girls to have their own room. It seemed that initially she was feeling lonely being the big sister in her own room. Relatives saw how much she enjoyed animals and her stuffed pig, so they began to bring her additional stuffed animals for her collection. Over time, she kept putting more and more of them on her bed, until there was no more room and she ultimately fell out of bed.

How does Lia Paris feel about having a book written about her? 

Lia is 16 years old now, a wonderful human being. She’s been thrilled about the whole process from the beginning. Her little cousins, my grandchildren, are always asking if I’m going to be writing a story about them, too. I do have plans to bring them into stories in the future.

How did you go about getting published?

My first book was self-published, but this time I was published through Austin Macauley Publishers. They were accepting submissions, and I looked at the kind of books they were printing. While they didn’t have any fairy tales, they did have funny, touching stories about children and their life experiences. I had written “Lia Paris” years ago, when she was around 5 years old, and it was dear to my heart. 

What about the illustrations?

Austin Macauley has its own illustration department. I sent them pictures from when Lia was young, along with sketches my niece helped me with. Lia actually has many of the stuffed animals from the story still in her closet, so she got them all out for us to photograph. It was a lot of work, but they did a great job.

Is there a particular lesson you’re trying to teach with this book?

I think there is a lesson in it for both parents and children, that more isn’t always better. Today, we always have to have the latest, greatest thing. And so much gets thrown out. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Who is the book’s target audience?

I think that it would be best for children ages 4 to 7, though younger children can certainly have their families read it to them.

Any more books on the horizon?

Yes, I have plenty of stories that I hope to publish in the future if this book does well. One story is called “My Name is Rainbow,” about a little girl who has a condition called heterochromia — her eyes are two different colors, and she often gets picked on by other children for it. It’s about learning to love yourself and celebrating the things that make you different.

Meet the author at a Spring Local Author event at BookHampton in East Hampton on April 19 at 10:30 a.m. and at a special Storytime event at Barnes and Noble in Lake Grove on April 25 at noon. “Lia Paris Sleeps in a Zoo” is available for purchase online at www.austinmacauley.com, Barnes & Noble and Amazon.

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

Animalkind is subtitled “Remarkable Discoveries about Animals and Revolutionary New Ways to Show Them Compassion.” This succinctly explains this straight-forward work coauthored by Ingrid Newkirk, founder of PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), and Gene Stone, who has done extensive plant-based writing.

The book is divided into two parts.  The first half deals with understanding animals as beings who “move, chat, love, and romp … and how we humans can benefit from our greater understanding of what makes animals tick.”

Co-author and animal activist Ingrid Newkirk with a friend

Section I covers a wide, diverse range of beings from the wonder of worker ants; to Rico, the extraordinary retrieving Border Collie; to “Clever Hans,” the Orlov trotter who was purported to comprehend sentences and solve math problems (but was revealed to be taking cues from his master). These and many more are analyzed alongside organisms as unusual as maze-solving slime mold:

The dog who jumps for joy when you come home. The emperor penguin guarding his child through a subzero blizzard. The dolphin smiling at us from the water. The sleeping cat’s purr of contentment. The manta ray’s intricate underwater ballets. The lark’s exquisite song. Animals delight, fascinate, and enrich human lives and thoughts every day of the year.

Newkirk and Stone carefully base their arguments in science and not solely issues of feelings and morality. Extensive research, siting multiple sources, are the foundation of their thesis. They make the distinction that we cannot compare animals’ minds and emotions to our own; anthropomorphizing is a dead-end in the understanding of animal natures. This is also true in comparing animals to other animals.

Contrary to common thought, animals — even fish — can be self-aware, and, therefore, experience pain and trauma as well as other emotions. There are detailed discussions of homing instincts and complex migrations in everything from snails to elephants. They look at the long-term effects of removing animals from their natural habitats. Quoting Darwin, animals experience “anxiety, grief, dejection, despair, joy love, ‘tender feelings,’ devotion, ill-temper, sulkiness, determination, hatred, anger, disdain, contempt, disgust, guilt, pride, helplessness, patience, surprise, astonishment, fear, horror, shame, shyness, and modesty.”

In a mix of investigation and anecdotes, the writers paint a vivid picture of a world that more than just co-exists with ours.

Section II deals with difficult issues. It focuses on how animals have been exploited for science, clothing, entertainment, and food. Part two alternates between detailed and often graphic accounts, offering a variety of proposed alternatives. Each of these ends with suggested calls to action.

The science portion gives a brutal narrative of the history of experimentation and vivisection. It discusses the problems with what few laws there are and their poor enforcement. It brings up the 3Rs of humane animal research:  replacement (substitutions); reduction (using the fewest number possible); and refinement (techniques that reduce the pain and stress). 

According to their sources, much of the testing on animals is of limited-to-no value given the dissimilarities of humans and animals. In addition, computer simulations are slowly replacing many areas of exploration: “In the future, the math may replace the mouse.” Finally, they encourage people to only use products and brands that are proven to be cruelty-free.

The ensuing sections follow much the same format:  A history of the use of animals, followed by analysis of their abuse, and finally specific changes that people can make in their lives. Everything from the pain of sheep raised for wool to the horrors found in circuses, zoos, and all forms of captivity are recounted. Even the “No Animals Were Harmed in the Making of This Film” is, at best, a half-truth, if not a lie. “Free range,” “free roaming,” and “cage-free” are often misnomers, misrepresenting the reality.  

Dunkirk and Stone also provide a brief  but informative history of the animal protection movement. This segues into the health benefits of a plant-based diet, describing the various meat, dairy, and egg alternatives and echoes the earlier proposals for clothing options that do not involve the harming or slaughter of animals.  

The book is passionate and honest in its goals; it makes its points with clarity and sincerity. Ultimately, people are reluctant to make changes they see as inconvenient and the advocacy here is large one. Whether this book creates converts to the cause remains to be seen. However, for those who do read it, it will certainly make a lasting impression. 

Animalkind is available at Book Revue in Huntington, Barnes & Noble and online through Simon & Schuster (simonandschuster.com) and Amazon. 

Half Hollow Hills senior writes children’s book celebrating local history
Author Jay Nagpal;

Reviewed by Melissa Arnold

It’s Jay Nagpal’s senior year at Half Hollow Hills High School in Dix Hills, and like everyone else in his grade, he’s got a lot to do. There’s classwork to finish, college applications to mail, a social life to keep up and the future to consider. But in the midst of all that, he’s also taken up an unexpected task. 

On Nov. 30, Nagpal published his debut book for children, “Miss Kim’s Class Goes to Town.” The 17-year-old wrote the book in hopes of sharing his knowledge and enthusiasm for local historical sites with the next generation. The book plays out just like a real class trip, with questions from students and helpful commentary by “Mr. Robert,” an actual historian in Huntington. 

The informative storyline coupled with cartoonish, fun illustrations will capture the imaginations of local children.

What came first for you, the interest in writing or history?

 It was history. From a young age, I was lucky enough to do quite a bit of traveling with my family, and we would always make a point of going to the historical sites or museums in the places we were visiting. We’ve gone to Rome, Paris, London and many other places in Europe that are rich in history. I think being exposed to that at such a young age is what’s given me such a great interest in history now.  

Do you have a favorite historical time period?

It bounces around, but years ago I was very interested in ancient history like you would see in Rome. Later on, I became more interested in the American Revolution, and last year I spent a lot of time focusing on World War II and postcolonialism.  

Why did you decide to write this book?

Last year, I started to see that while I was really passionate about history, a lot of other people just aren’t. In my history classes, I noticed that many of the other students weren’t engaged in the material, and I started to wonder if there was something I could do to engage kids in a meaningful way. I thought that I could create a platform that focused on local history and stir up interest around that for people my age.

Ultimately, I founded the Dix Hills-Melville Historical Association. It was uncharted territory for me, but I had tremendous support from the Huntington Historical Society and the local school district. Robert Hughes from the Huntington Historical Society supported me from the very beginning. I compiled all the important historical sites, landmarks and archives with their help, and created a website that would provide me with a forum to write features and blog posts about history. For example, we just celebrated Walt Whitman’s 200th birthday in May, so it was important to write about that on the website.

Are any of the children in the book named after people you know?

A lot of the names in the book have meaning to me. Early on, one of the students mentions a teacher named Miss Martin. That’s a reference to Karen Martin, who is the archivist at the Huntington Historical Society. Mr. Robert, the town historian, is directly based off of the real Robert Hughes. Dylan is my friend’s brother, whose parents published the book, and some of the other students are also named after friends of mine.  

What was it like to see the book for the first time?

It was a surreal feeling, for sure. After months of going through the entire process of publishing and putting everything together, it was so rewarding to finally see the finished product. 

How long did writing take?

I started over the summer, and the book was published about six weeks ago. A lot of the research had already been done in founding the historical association, so I already had the information I needed.

How did you go about getting it published?

A close friend’s parents actually run a publishing company called Linus Learning, and they were very open to the idea of publishing my book. 

What about the illustrations? Did you do them, or did you work with someone else?

I’m definitely not an artist, and one of the great challenges of the project was finding the right illustrator. I ended up going online and using a service called Fiverr to connect to a very talented illustrator who lives in Sri Lanka. Her name is Thushari Herath, and she really did a phenomenal job. There are a lot of cultural differences between us, so we had to talk about things like what side of the road the bus would drive on, what classes would look like, how people would dress and so on. It took a bit of extra effort, but it was all worth it because she’s so talented.  

What is the recommended age for this book?

Older elementary school kids will probably get the most out of it, starting at about third or fourth grade. My goal was to be as accessible as possible, though, so people older or younger than that shouldn’t feel discouraged to read it.

What’s next for you? Do you want to write more books?

Right now, I’m focusing on finishing up my college applications. I’m looking to stay somewhere in the Northeast that has a strong history program − I’d like to pursue some kind of research track through graduate school and maybe a Ph.D. down the road. I’m not totally sure about anything yet, but that’s what I’m thinking about lately. 

I hope to do something like this book again in the future, especially if it makes an impact on local students.

Where can we learn more about you?

I share information and thoughts about local history at www.dixhillsmelvillehistory.org. 

“Miss Kim’s Class Goes to Town” is available online at Amazon.com, at Huntington Historical Society events and at the gift shops of historical sites around Huntington.

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.