Tags Posts tagged with "Children’s Book"

Children’s Book

By Melissa Arnold

Author Deborah L. Staunton

Just about every kid has trouble getting to sleep at some point. Whether they’re scared of the dark, worried about monsters under the bed or can’t turn off a chatty brain, restlessness is always unsettling. Through the lens of a curious, resilient protagonist named Josie, Deborah L. Staunton’s new children’s book, Owls Can’t Sing, helps kids face their nighttime fears and celebrates what makes them special. Gorgeously illustrated and fun to read, this book could be a big help — at bedtime or otherwise. 

Tell me about yourself. Did you always want to be a writer?

I grew up in Port Jefferson … I’ve always loved books and writing from as early as elementary school. I can remember my second grade teacher putting on my report card that she loved reading my stories, and I kept a journal beginning around 10 years old. Family, friends and teachers were always so encouraging of my writing.

What did you pursue as a career?

I went to college at the Clarion University of Pennsylvania [now PennWest University Clarion] for early childhood education, and while I was there I fell in love with the theater. So I was still majoring in education, but I was at the theater every free moment I had. Later, I went back to school for theater arts ­— I spent one year at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania, and ultimately graduated from SUNY New Paltz. I developed a background in both children’s theater and adult theater, did a lot with stage management and lighting, and worked on the tech side of those things for many years.

So you’re trained in education and theater — where does writing fit in?

Writing plays such a huge part in my life. In so many ways, it’s what saved me. I’ve been through a lot, and writing is my coping mechanism. It’s the way I sort through things. I’ve had many pieces published in literary journals and magazines, and I also had a book come out last summer called Untethered, which is a memoir in poetry and short prose. It’s about my growing up with a mentally ill father, raising a mentally ill daughter, and experiencing four miscarriages along the way.

Is Owls Can’t Sing your first foray into children’s literature?

Not really — but it is my first work for children that was published. I always thought children’s literature would be my path toward publishing. I started sending out different manuscripts as far back as 1990, but the market is so inundated and I never got anywhere. I continued to write and attend writing conferences, publishing short pieces here and there until Untethered took shape, but I never gave up on kids’ books.

How did you finally publish Owls Can’t Sing?

I belong to the Author’s Guild [a national, professional organization for published writers], and a woman from there posted that her sister was starting a new publishing company called Two Sisters Press. They were seeking submissions, so I sent in my memoir and the children’s manuscript. Ultimately, they loved both, so I went from nothing to having two books published in less than a year! It’s been wonderful. 

Did you ever think about self-publishing? Why did you go the traditional route?

I pursued traditional publishing because, truthfully, I wanted validation that I really was talented and had something to offer. It was a dream of mine, and I was willing to do the hard work, taking rejections and feedback and eventually having someone choose me. It wasn’t without its disappointments or frustrations, but it was absolutely worth it.

How did you connect with the illustrator, Akikuzzaman Utshoo?

My publisher had a few illustrators I could choose from, but their styles weren’t what I had in mind, So I took on the financial responsibility of finding someone on my own. I went on the website Fiverr and saw an example cover illustration which was very similar to what is now the cover of Owls Can’t Sing. I just loved it. It was a painstaking process of working on one illustration at a time while navigating language barriers between us. Pictures are such a big part of children’s books, and I’m so glad it came out the way I envisioned.

What was the writing process like? Was this the original concept from years ago?

No, I had written a different children’s book back in the 1990s. In 2013, I met a woman at a writers’  conference who had many children’s books published. I asked if she was willing to work with me privately, and we talked weekly on the phone for eight weeks. When I gave her the manuscript, we started formulating a totally new idea. She asked me what my daughter was studying in school, and at the time it was owls. By the end of eight weeks, we had a new manuscript that didn’t resemble the original at all.

Is the main character, Josie, based on someone in your life?

My daughter is 18 and my son is 14. The character of Josie is inspired by my daughter, who has struggled with a lot in her life, including sleep. I want people to know that we don’t all fit into the same box. We don’t all have to be neurotypical, or exactly the same as everyone else, to be “normal.” We are who we are, and that’s fine.

Is there a recommended age for this book?

It’s good for all ages, but would be the best fit for ages 3 to 8. 

What’s next for you?

I’m working on a collection of poetry in memory of two friends that I’ve lost, and hopefully another children’s project, including one with my dad.

What advice would you give to people who are thinking about writing a book?

Never stop writing, and don’t be afraid to share your story because we all have a story to tell! Find the right people who are willing to give you good feedback along the way and help you to become a stronger writer. It doesn’t have to be a fancy program. But don’t go through the writing process alone.

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Owls Can’t Sing is available at your favorite online booksellers. Partial proceeds from the book will go to the International Owl Center (www.internationalowlcenter.org). Meet Deborah L. Staunton at Rocky Point Day at Rocky Point High School, 82 Rocky Point Yaphank Road, Rocky Point on May 19 where she will be selling and signing copies of her books from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.. Follow her online at www.DeborahLStaunton.com and on social media @DeborahLStaunton.

'Rest in Peace'

Reviewed By Melissa Arnold

No matter how old you are, there’s something fun about celebrating all things weird and spooky on Halloween. To get into the spirit with your family, consider Rest in Peace (Scoot Comics), an adorable rhyming picture book from debut author Tyler Ham. 

‘Rest in Peace’

The story centers around Ghoul who just wants to do is go to sleep after a long Halloween but his monster pals  — Dracula, the Werewolf, the Mummy, Frankenstein’s Monster and the Blob — want to keep the party going.  

Raised in California, Ham was not one for horror, but he loved Halloween and “slightly spooky” entertainment. Now a father of two, Ham has embraced that lighthearted spookiness with a cast of funny monsters and a positive message of friendship that even the youngest kids can enjoy. 

Tell me about your childhood. I assume that you loved horror movies.

I was a very timid child, but I loved Halloween, so “spooky” has always been my go-to genre. It’s funny how much I love horror movies now, because when I was a kid, they scared the heck out of me! I wanted nothing to do with it. But at the same time, I always loved Halloween and mildly spooky things. Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video was about as far as I could go.

I read something in a book once about the array of emotions we can experience in life that really stuck with me. Basically, you can feel happy, sad, excited in the real world, but those emotions typically come from a place of safety. On the other hand, when you’re scared, it’s because you don’t feel safe. That’s not a feeling that you want. But when you watch a scary movie, you can tap into the experience of being scared in a safe way, and there’s something fun about that.

So did you do a lot of writing in that ‘spooky’ genre as a kid?

I was a creative kid, though more artistic – more into drawing, painting, papier mache, that sort of thing – but never writing. 

I wasn’t a great student.  I did the work but didn’t particularly enjoy it. And I didn’t like English class, either. But in high school, I had two really great English teachers who actually loved my writing assignments. They said I was a good storyteller and would even read my stuff in front of the class. 

When I graduated, I went to film school at California University of Monterey Bay wanting to direct, and the same thing happened. I wasn’t interested in the writing aspect, but was often praised in classes for my screenwriting so it was clearly an ability I had.

After college, I moved back home with my parents and was looking for work. My mom met someone at a charity event who had just opened a new school for 3-D art. I was always curious about that, but didn’t know how to begin learning about it. And then this opportunity came along. I took a tour and enrolled for the next semester, which was only six days away. That experience ultimately took me into the visual effects industry.  I spent about 16 years working in the digital effects industry as a 3-D artist for film studios, and then I switched over to the toys and collectibles industry. Writing was something I did for fun.

When did you start thinking about writing a children’s book?

My oldest daughter was one of those babies that just wouldn’t go to bed. She loved to be read to, so we would sit in our chair and read book after book. Over time, I learned that while some kids’ books are great, others are honestly just bad. I knew I wasn’t going to write anything legendary, but I figured I could at least do better than some of the books I’d seen.

So one night, I put my daughter to bed and went into my office. I knew I wanted to write about Halloween, since it’s my favorite holiday and it’s a fun time for kids, and I knew I wanted to have different kinds of monsters. As I wrote, I’d read it to myself and make sure the rhymes felt natural and not clunky. 

Did you pursue traditional publishing or self-publishing? What was the process like?

The first draft was actually completed nine years ago. I shopped it around, but no one was biting. I’d get discouraged and leave it for a while, rewrite parts and try again. Eventually I was working for a publishing company in product development, and they would occasionally have employee submissions. The woman who was reading the manuscripts contacted me and said that while my book wasn’t the right fit for our company, it was really good, and she invited me to join a writing group. She was my first mentor, and the book went through many revisions until it was really polished.

Ultimately, a friend of mine wrote a comic book, and his company was starting a children’s book division. I submitted my original Halloween story, along with ideas for other holiday concepts featuring this cast of monsters, like Valentine’s Day and the Fourth of July. They liked the ideas and agreed to publish me.

Do you relate to Ghoul, the main character of ‘Rest in Peace’?

Yeah! It doesn’t make me look great, but I share a little bit of that lighthearted grumpiness — my kids tease me and say “Hey, you’re grumpy like Ghoul is!” But he has good intentions, just like I do.

What was it like seeing the finished product after all those years?

It was just surreal getting those first copies of the book, especially after nine years of work. This story was meant for my first daughter, and it took so long that now I’m reading it to my second daughter’s kindergarten class. She wasn’t even in the picture when this all began!

How did you find the illustrator, Firulas Ilustra? 

I found Sâmara, who along with her illustration partner Thaís form Firulas Ilustra, on the social media platform reddit. She lives in Brazil — she had some pictures up and I really liked her style. I could tell right away that she really understood what I was envisioning and connected to the idea. 

Do you have plans for future books?

I have plans to publish several holiday-themed books with this cast of monsters! The next book in the series, The Yule Ghoul (available now!) continues the story of Rest In Peace, and has the Ghoul throwing his first Christmas party! He is very excited but is afraid none of his monster friends will come. The follow up Valentine’s day book is written, and a few more are in various stages of completion. 

What’s the target age group for ‘Rest in Peace’?

It’s interesting — originally the target age was 3 to 7. But then I read it to my daughter’s 5th grade class and they really loved it. The publisher also suggested that there are 9- and 10-year-olds that would get a kick out of it as well.

Is there a message you hope kids take away from reading this?

Ghoul has this difficulty where he gets so frustrated with his friends being in his space after a long Halloween, but they really just want to spend more time [with him]. It’s about accepting people into your life and being patient with them, even when they do things that you don’t understand. All of our friends have their own little quirks. And I also hope that people see that monsters can be fun!

‘Rest in Peace’ is available now through your favorite online booksellers. Follow Tyler Ham at his official website, www.tylerham.com.

By Melissa Arnold

One can hardly travel a half block on Long Island without seeing a bag of Tate’s Bake Shop cookies, but that’s not a bad thing. The ubiquitous green bags are a sure sign of impending happiness.

Tate’s Bake Shop founder Kathleen King opened her first bakery when she was just 21 years old. The dream began long before that, though. Young Kathleen baked her signature thin and crispy cookies from age 11 on, selling them at her father Tate’s East End farmstand and using the profits to buy new school clothes each year. Today, the multi-million-dollar business has made Tate’s a nationwide favorite. 

This summer, King released a children’s picture book called Cookie Queen: How One Girl Started Tate’s Bake Shop [Random House] co-written with Lowey Bundy Sichol and illustrated by Ramona Kaulitzki. It’s King’s first book for children — she also has two cookbooks of baked goods.

Cookie Queen is an autobiographical reflection of Tate’s humble beginnings in a simple home kitchen. Young Kathleen is tired of the puffy and gooey cookies she sees everywhere — what she really wants is a thin, crispy cookie, But King’s process of trial and error shows young readers that reaching a goal isn’t always quick or easy. Kathleen makes batches and batches of cookies that she doesn’t like, experimenting and struggling to find the perfect recipe.

These important lessons of patience, hard work and following your dreams are coupled with beautiful illustrations from Kaulitzki. She captures the sprawling farm, Kathleen’s house and the family’s market with polished, detailed scenes. Little ones will enjoy pointing out farm animals, a house cat, a tractor and other thoughtful extras.

At the end of the book, older readers can learn about the real Tate’s Bake Shop with an easy to digest, single page history. Perhaps the best inclusion is Kathleen and Tate’s personal recipe for molasses cookies to make at home. Who knows, maybe a young reader in your life might discover their own love of baking.

My godchildren, ages 4 and 2, were big fans of the book when I read it to them. No surprise there — after all, what kid wouldn’t like a book about cookies? That said, the vocabulary and overall message would be better understood by elementary school readers. 

Age aside, this book is best enjoyed as a family, then immediately followed by some hands-on time together in the kitchen, especially with dessert-heavy holidays approaching. To order, visit amazon.com, bn.com or your favorite online retailer.

Beef with a copy of Charles Armstrong's book

By Melissa Arnold

Author Charles Armstrong

A few years ago, Smithtown resident Charles Armstrong was looking forward to a long, lazy summer break from high school. Then, everything changed when doctors found a tumor in his brain. He was only 15 years old.

Throughout the course of his intense treatment regimen, Armstrong was comforted and entertained by his family’s sweet new dog, Beef. In fact, Beef had such a special personality that someone suggested he write a book about her.

And that’s exactly what he did. Now 18 and thankfully cancer-free, Armstrong decided to share his story to help other kids with cancer feel a little less alone. His debut book, The Dog Named Beef and Her Superpower, focuses on Beef’s relationship with Charlie as she works to help him feel better. It’s light and approachable for young kids, and includes a note from Armstrong in the back that goes into more detail for older readers. The book has cute illustrations throughout and some real pictures of Beef and her family at the end. Kids stuck in bed will enjoy the activity pages that were wisely included as well.

Did you ever consider writing a book prior to your illness?

I wasn’t much of a creative kid. In fact, I had to take extended English classes because I struggled with it. I always told my parents I hated reading. But then in my junior and senior year of high school, I had a few teachers tell me that they really liked my writing. After my treatment, I realized I actually liked to read and started writing things on my own.

Charles Armstrong and Beef

Did you have any warning signs that something was wrong prior to your diagnosis?

I was out riding my bike with some friends right after school got out for the summer in 2020. It was a hot day, and my head really started to hurt. I had lots of pressure in my head, along with black spots in my vision and nausea. I came home and told my parents, and they figured it was heat exhaustion, but decided to be on the safe side and take me to the doctor. Not long after that, results of the scans came back to show a ping pong ball sized tumor in the center of my brain. It flipped our whole world upside down.

It was a type of tumor called a pineoblastoma. The tumor was causing spinal fluid to build up and I developed hydrocephalus, so I had surgery to address that, and then the biopsy confirmed it was cancer. During a second surgery, they were able to remove 99 percent of the tumor. After that, I had six weeks of radiation and six months of chemo infusions at Stony Brook.

It’s hard for anyone to face cancer, but it’s even rarer for young people to be in that position. Were you lonely?

It was tough because the COVID pandemic was also going on at the time, so there were a lot of restrictions on hospital visitors. But the staff did whatever they could to keep me connected to people while I was in the hospital. I would stay there for four or five days every month as part of my treatment routine. But my mom was able to take time off of work to stay with me, and I was able to use my phone to text with friends.

Did you have pets growing up?

Yes! We had both a cat and a dog when I was younger. My brother has a ferret, and we also have a bird. 

Whose idea was it to get a dog?

It was a family decision. After our first dog passed away, we took some time to grieve and after a while we decided to go to an adoption event at Last Chance Animal Rescue in June of 2020. That’s where we met Beef. My brother and I volunteered there when we were younger.

What drew you to Beef?

She was so timid and hiding in the back of the area, but when we approached her she got so excited and licked our faces. We all fell in love with her right away. Other people were looking at her, but we said, “No way, this is our dog now!” As it happens, she had been up for adoption for several months before we met her. I guess she was waiting for us.

Many animals are known to be very caring, especially when a family member is sick. Did Beef treat you differently?

We hadn’t had her for that long when I got sick, but she could tell that something was wrong in the house. She knew we were distraught, and at night she would always snuggle with me.

How did she help you? Did she affect your family too?

She just always knew what to do to lift me up, whether it was putting her head on my shoulder or chasing her tail to snap me out of a rut. On days when I was feeling okay we would play together. She makes all of us laugh. There’s a scene in the book where she does a handstand, and something very similar to that actually happened. She’s so emotionally intelligent and funny.

Why did you decide to write a book about your experience?

Going through all of the treatment associated with cancer, I had support from so many different directions. I wanted to find a way to provide that support in some way to other kids My cousin’s girlfriend joked that I should write about Beef, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized it could help other kids that were going through an illness. Beef is a funny dog, and the story could help them feel some of the love she showed me in that time.

Did you self-publish or use a traditional publisher?

I self-published through Amazon KDP. They made it very simple. It’s a lot of work, but the process was pretty streamlined and it was a great experience overall.

Who is the illustrator?

The illustrator is Inga Buccella. My mom found Inga on Etsy, and she was so enthusiastic about being a part of the book when I told her my story.

What was it like for you when the book arrived?

It felt so surreal to hold it in my hands. It still doesn’t feel real to think of myself as a published author, but it’s great.

How are you doing now? What are you up to?

I had my most recent scans a few months ago, and they showed that I am still cancer free. I work a couple different jobs and am interested in getting into marketing. I’ve been working out a lot and just did my first Spartan race! I also got a chance to be a part of a short student film in New York City.

What is the target age for the book? 

I wanted it to be accessible to as many kids as possible. I think it would be right up the alley of kids between the ages of 3 and 7, though other age groups might find it relatable, too.

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The Dog Named Beef and Her Superpower is available now at Amazon.com. Keep up with Charles on Instagram @charlesparmstrong, and follow Beef’s antics on TikTok @the_dog_named_beef.

Author Sarah S. Anker at Cedar Beach in Mount Sinai with a copy of her first children's book. Photo by Michael Toscanini

By Melissa Arnold 

Sarah S. Anker was born on a Navy base and lived all over the country before her family finally settled down in central Florida. She loved living amongst the orange groves, woodlands and even the swamps. But with time, the area began to change, giving way to urban development and the sprawling complex of Walt Disney World. Some of the ponds and lakes have evaporated. 

“You have to be careful with nature, because once you lose it, it’s really hard to get back,” said Anker. “And we’re seeing so much of that loss all over the world, not only in woodland but in wildlife.”

Anker raised three children in Suffolk County, which she’s called home for 35 years, and quickly became aware of issues impacting the environment here as well. 

Among them are the gyres — large systems of circulating ocean currents — that have become clogged with plastic waste, slowing the oceans’ circulation and speeding up climate change.

In addition to her ongoing career in the Suffolk County Legislature, Anker’s concern for the environment inspired her to write Below the Ocean: Keeping Our Sea Friends Safe. Through the perspective of a young seal named Sophia who becomes entangled in undersea garbage, kids will learn about threats facing ocean life and what they can do to make a difference. Vibrant and expressive illustrations will make this book captivating for children of all ages. 

How did you get interested in writing? 

My mother was a writer of short stories and poetry, and she always dreamed of getting published. I was a news reporter, photographer and graphic designer for a long time before I began my political career. So the desire to write was always with me.

Why did you decide to write a book for children?

I have children myself, and before that I loved reading lots of books to the children at the preschool where my mother worked while I was growing up. It’s important to influence children in a positive way and give them a greater understanding of how to take care of their world. Our future generation needs to understand how important our environment is, and their role in protecting it. We all need to do more.

What is this book about?

Below the Ocean tells the story of Sophia the seal as she learns about the ocean, how it affects people and sea life, and what she can do to help stop ocean pollution. 

When did you first get involved with environmental protection efforts?

I’ve been doing environmental work as far back as high school, helping out with beach cleanups and other activities like the Future Farmers of America. When I moved to Long Island, I joined the Sierra Club and other civic organizations looking to address pollution in the area, and around 20 years ago I founded a not-for-profit organization called the Community Health and Environment Coalition (CHEC) to address the issue of cancer and how it relates to the environment.

Why are these issues so important to you?

My grandmother passed away from breast cancer when I was pregnant with my daughter Rachel. The New York State Department of Health’s cancer map has shown increased rates of cancer in our area, and I have always believed that the environment directly impacts our health. We not only need to clean up the damage that’s been done in the past, but preserve our environment for future generations as well. 

What do you hope kids will learn from reading this book?

Each individual person, adults and children, has a part that they can play in helping the environment. We can all recycle. We can all help to clean up garbage that we see. We can all go to public meetings to contribute our ideas and find out what needs to be done to address problems. There is a lot of work to do, but all of us can do something.

What was the publication process like? Did you self-publish or use a traditional publisher?

With my background, I decided to create my own publishing company called Anker Books. I wanted to be able to work on the project at my own pace and have more freedom over what the final book would be like. There was a lot of research involved in learning how to self-publish, and I ultimately went through Kindle Direct Publishing for part of that process. They weren’t able to publish a large size, so I also published through another company called IngramSpark. 

Who is the illustrator for this book? 

The illustrator, Lily Liu, is a Chinese woman who lives in France. I found her on the website Upwork, and was amazed by her incredible talent and how rich her illustrations were — the vivid colors and emotion she was able to capture on the characters’ faces. I gave her creative freedom and she has been amazing to work with.

Is there an age recommendation for this book?

Not specifically, but I’d say that kids from ages 2 to about 10 would find something to enjoy about it. It’s a picture book with expressive animals and there’s a storyline to it, but there’s also scientific information and an educational component that older children can benefit from as well. 

What are some things we can all do to take care of the natural world?

Help clean up pollution you see around you. Go to local meetings and advocate for policies that protect our environment. Write to your elected officials about the issues that are meaningful to you. Try to focus on how you can reuse materials instead of always buying new.

Do you plan to write more books in the future?

This will be one of many books for children I hope to publish. I also hope to use Anker Books to support other authors as well. 

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Below the Ocean: Keeping Our Sea Friends Safe is available online at popular retailers including Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Join Sarah Anker for Children’s Storytime at Barnes and Noble at the Smith Haven Mall in Lake Grove on Saturday, Nov. 12 at 11 a.m. followed by a Q&A session and book signing. 

Learn more about the author’s writing and how you can help the environment at www.ankerbooks.com.

'Born to Sparkle'

By Melissa Arnold

Megan Bomgaars was born feet first on Thanksgiving Day in 1992, and if you ask her mom Kris, Megan hit the ground running and hasn’t stopped since. Bomgaars was born with Down syndrome, and from an early age wanted to spread the word about acceptance and equal opportunities for all kinds of people. 

Author Megan Bomgaars with a copy of her first book, ‘Born to Sparkle.’ Photo courtesy of Flowerpot Press

The 29-year-old Denver native was among seven young adults with Down syndrome who shared their lives with America in the A&E docuseries Born This Way. The show went on to win an Emmy Award in 2016 for Outstanding Unstructured Reality Program.

A motivational speaker and self-advocate, Bomgaars is also the owner of the  online fashion company Megology.com and teamed up with Sanrio’s Hello Kitty to create a fashionable clothing line in 2018.

These days, Bomgaars, whose motto is “Don’t Limit Me!’, is focusing on one of her greatest passions: writing. Her first book, “Born to Sparkle: A Story About Achieving Your Dreams,” teaches kids that all of us are unique and have something special to share with the world and if you dream big and work hard, you can achieve anything. 

The uplifting storyline coupled with adorable animal illustrations by Pete Olczyk that sparkle on every page make the book a fun and charming pick for early readers.

TBR News Media recently had the opportunity to speak with Bomgaars about her new venture as an author.

Megan, were you always a creative person? Did you write stories when you were little?  

I was always a creative person with lots of singing and dancing. As I got older and learned to write and type, I began writing in my journal every day. I would write about my dreams and goals. And some of them even come true – like publishing my Born to Sparkle book!

Did you like school? What was your favorite subject? 

I loved going to school with my friends. I was a cheerleader in high school and got to do lots of activities and social stuff with them. I’m still friends with my girls and love them! My favorite subject was science. I also really liked writing in high school too.  

Did you always want to write a book? 

I have wanted to write a book ever since I was at a conference in Nashville and saw one of the other keynote speakers selling and autographing his book after his speech. Since then, it’s been my goal to be able to do the same thing someday, and now I can.

‘Born to Sparkle’

What is the book about? 

Born to Sparkle is about following your dreams, and never giving up, and learning everything you can even when it’s hard. I think that this book is important because it teaches kids to follow their dreams and work hard. I also think it’s inspirational for people of all ages to read.  

How long did it take to publish?

My book took about a year to publish, and the release date was pushed back for a year because of the pandemic.

Did you use a publisher or self-publish?  

I published my book with Flowerpot Press. When I met them, they believed in me, and they were the best in giving my words a meaning that can be passed to others. We are going to continue to work together in the future to spread more positivity.

What did you like about putting the book together?  

My favorite part was being able to work with the illustrator Pete Olczyk and giving him feedback on the final art. He was super in tune with what my message was. I loved the sketches of the artwork from the very first time I saw it. We were the perfect team! 

Did you always want to use animals as characters in the book instead of people?  

I liked the animals because it was a children’s book and I thought it made it more fun. Plus these animals have courage and are fearless!

What was it like when you got the finished book? 

I was very proud of my book and everyone who made it possible. Getting to publish my own story was one of my biggest dreams, and hopefully it will inspire everyone who reads it.

Is the book recommended for a specific age group?  

Born to Sparkle is for young children, but I also think it would be a great replacement for a card or gift for anyone who has worked hard to accomplish anything, like a baby shower or graduation.  

Do you want to write other books in the future?  

I’m going to be working on a book that I hope to title Born to be Brave. I have met so many very brave people in the last several years who have inspired me, and I’d like to share what I’ve learned with others.  

I know you are doing a lot of different things for the Down Syndrome community right now. What else are you involved in?  

The organization that I support is called the Global Down Syndrome Foundation. I am committed to helping fund research for people with Down syndrome. This research also helps people with cancer, Alzheimer’s, autoimmune disease, and so much more. I have also participated in research studies myself that will lead to improving the lives of people with Down syndrome, both for people living today and those babies who haven’t even been born yet.

Stay up to date with Megan Bomgaars at her official website, www.Megology.com, and follow her on Instagram @meganbomgaars. Born to Sparkle is available online at www.barnesandnoble.com, and www.amazon.com.

Megan Bomgaars. Photo from Facebook

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

“Born to Sparkle” is a book written, to my surprise, by a young woman with Down syndrome. The rest of the book title is “A Story About Achieving Your Dreams.” A review of the book appears in our Arts and Lifestyles section on page B23 in this issue, and it tells a heartwarming story about the author, Megan Bomgaars, who is 29 and lives in Denver. In the words of our reviewer, Melissa Arnold, the book “teaches kids that all of us are unique and have something special to share with the world, and if you dream big and work hard, you can achieve anything.” 

Why am I surprised? Because my sister, who was two years younger than I, also was born with Down syndrome, and like Megan, on Thanksgiving Day but 50 years earlier in 1942. While she was clever and wonderful in many ways, Maxine could never have written a book, in part because she would never have been imagined to do so. What a difference that half-century makes.

There is a broad spectrum of Down diagnoses, and Maxine was pronounced “profoundly retarded,” which surely limited expectations for her life. While Megan’s motto is, “Don’t Limit Me!”, and she has become a motivational speaker and the owner of a business, the professionals who examined my sister Maxine told my parents to institutionalize her “because she won’t live very long anyway with that condition.” She lived to be 65.

It was my sister’s bad luck to be born five decades earlier, when mental retardation was considered a stigma for a family, and the response to such a birth was to hide the innocent person. Megan Bomgaars, by comparison, shared her life’s story on television with six others in the A&E docuseries “Born This Way.” The show went on to win an Emmy in 2016.

It was my sister’s good luck to have two parents who recognized her as a fully entitled member of our family and tried to give her every advantage that existed then, which were very few. When the principal of the elementary school that I attended refused to accept her into first grade, my mother asked for the “Dick & Jane” series with which first graders were taught to read and patiently worked with my sister at home for many hours a day. Eventually, Maxine could proudly read that primer. She could also do simple arithmetic, adding and subtracting, and she was very verbal. 

In fact, that was the only difficult part of life with Maxine. She talked constantly and in a loud voice, as if she were on one side of a telephone conversation. Only two things could make her quiet down: music and baseball.

Maxine would sit quietly in the back of the room while I took piano lessons from a teacher who came to the apartment. After he left and I got up, she would slide onto the piano stool and play the melodies of the different pieces I had gone over with the teacher. We’re talking here Bach, Czerny and Mendelsohn. She also adored music that she would hear on the radio, especially show tunes that she could sing. And sing she did, in a Jimmy Durante voice. One of her favorites was “Oklahoma!”

Also, she loved to listen to baseball games on the radio and watch them played on our Sunday outings with our dad to Central Park. I don’t know if she followed the intricacies of the game, but she knew when to cheer and probably loved being part of the crowd.

Megan Bomgaars loved going to school and was a cheerleader in high school. My sister also attended a school in Brooklyn that was operated by Catholic Services. A bus would pick her up, along with my mother, each day and drive them to Brooklyn. Incidentally, my mother never let her out of her sight. My parents protected Maxine from a world that could not always be kind and safe. But for Megan, a person who incidentally has Down syndrome, today society learns from her.

 

 

'The Snowbaby'

By Melissa Arnold

Author Jonny Hamilton

Jonny Hamilton of Greenlawn has a gift for visual arts and creative work. After becoming a father and reading one too many poorly-written children’s books, he decided to try writing his own. Hamilton’s second book, The Snowbaby, follows a just born snow-pal as he explores the world for the first time. The simple story and sweet characters are enhanced by Hamilton’s captivating and textured illustrations. The book was a hit with his own children, and will surely capture the eyes and imaginations of little ones during this especially snowy winter.

Do you write for a living, or is this a new undertaking for you? 

For the past 15 years, I’ve worked as the creative lead for an advertising network, but I’m an animator at heart. I went to school for digital media production and found myself drawn to the graphic design side of things. I started working professionally in Portland right out of school in a few boutique production and animation studios with some truly inspiring talent. On a personal trip to NYC, I decided on a whim to send my reel around. I ended up getting a job offer and moved east two weeks later. 

Writing is a relatively new undertaking — I drew comics for my friends in grade school and wrote absurd short stories in high school (very much inspired by Monty Python sketches and Steve Martin’s short stories), but I never really thought of myself as a writer. I suppose I sort of backed into it more as an illustrator looking for a story.

Did you read a lot when you were younger? What books inspired you? 

I didn’t read a lot as a kid. I was and still am a slow reader, so it’s hard to make time.  I do have very fond memories of the books of my childhood that are probably standard for my generation. Eric Carle, Maurice Sendak, and Arnold Lobel really resonated with me both visually and from a storytelling standpoint. And now that I have kids, I’ve become a big fan of Mo Willems, Adam Rubin & Daniel Salmieri, and Dav Pilkey. 

What inspired you to start writing?

I’ve always been interested in creating children’s media in general. I grew up with Sesame Street, the Muppets, Mister Rogers, etc. I had a deep love for all that stuff, and was a fan well past the age when most kids outgrew it. As an adult I did some freelance work making animated educational shorts for preschoolers and enjoyed it so much I started making some on my own.  

When I became a parent, I was exposed to this whole world of children’s books. The thing is, for every great book you get your kids, you somehow also end up with three terrible books. So after a few years, I thought, ‘I should give writing a kids’ book a try.’

My twin sons were 5 and our youngest was around 1, so we had a new baby around. The twins loved anything that had to do with babies, so I thought that was fertile ground to start with. I wrote my first book, What Babies Do at Night, and then The Snowbaby, and gave them to the twins as Christmas gifts. 

My kids loved the books, partly because they recognized themselves as the characters, but mostly because I nailed their favorite subject. It was the reaction from other family members that got me to publish. Everyone seemed genuinely impressed if not surprised that it was actually a decent little book.

What is the ‘The Snowbaby’ about?

The Snowbaby is the story of a curious and good-natured newborn exploring an entirely new world. He is fascinated by everyone he meets including a fox, rabbit and cardinal, and eventually finds just what he needs: his family. 

How long did it take to write?

My first book took almost three months, and I really struggled to get through it. I think I was trying too hard to get everything in, as if it were the only book I would ever write. With The Snowbaby I allowed it to be much simpler. I started with the illustrations, and the story just emerged.  

Tell us more about the illustrations. 

Each of my books has a different illustrative style, but I’ve received the most positive feedback about the artwork in The Snowbaby. I’m a huge fan of the background artwork in the Peanuts animated holiday specials, so that’s where I started with The Snowbaby. I used watercolor washes throughout to create an atmosphere of winter and then added bright splashes of color here and there with the cardinal, fox, etc. 

Did you publish in the traditional way, or did you self-publish? What company did you choose and why? 

I spent about a year sending out query letters for The Snowbaby, and my latest book The Annual Elf. As expected, I received many “Thank you, but …” responses. I finally decided to google “Self-Publishing Children’s Books” and I found a great video that showed how to do it “in 10 minutes” on Amazon through Kindle Direct Publishing.

Well, it took quite a bit longer than 10 minutes, but it wasn’t too difficult. There are pros and cons of publishing through this service. There are limited options for sizing, so I had to rework the layout. The color in the printing varies from batch to batch, and paperback is the only option for a book as short as The Snowbaby. The biggest benefit is you don’t have to order a bunch of copies. You just make it available, and they print them as needed per individual order.  

Is there a particular message or lesson you hope to share through this book?

I hope they experience a feeling of love and kindness that everyone deserves.

What is the target age for this book?

From ages 2 to 7 seems to be the sweet spot. One of my sons brought it into his kindergarten class and the class sent me a poster where every student drew their favorite scenes. It was an incredibly touching gift (Thanks, Mrs. Gutheil)!

Jonny Hamilton’s books are available for purchase at www.amazon.com/author/jonnyhamilton. View an animated version of The Snowbaby by searching for “Jonny Hamilton The Snowbaby” on YouTube, and keep up with Hamilton on Instagram @jonny_hamilton_author.

Reviewed by Melissa Arnold

Whenever a new president arrives at the gates of the White House, much attention is given to all the members of the First Family, pets included. This year, all eyes have been on President Biden’s two German shepherds, Champ and Major. Major holds the special honor of being the first presidential pet rescued from an animal shelter.

Co-author Jamie Silberhartz

Jamie Silberhartz has had dogs her whole life, from her childhood on Long Island to her busy life now as a California actor and mom. She also has a passion for helping dogs get out of shelters and into their forever homes. Silberhartz and her longtime friend Erica Lee were touched by Major’s story, and set out to write a tale of their own for kids. 

In Major: Presidential Pup, the dog tells his rags-to-riches story in his own words, sharing the adoption process and a message of kindness. Coupled with realistic, sweet illustrations by Tran Dang, this book should be well-liked by young animal fans.  

I recently had the opportunity to interview Silberhartz about her new children’s book.

What was your childhood like? Did you grow up on Long Island?

I lived on Long Island for my entire childhood! I was born and raised in Stony Brook and graduated from Ward Melville High School in 2000. Long Island is the most beautiful place in the world. I have so much love for it.

What did you want to do when you grew up, and what did you end up doing for work?

I always really enjoyed writing as a child — I loved writing stories and poetry. I went to Emerson College in Boston, where I studied writing and acting, but I mostly focused on screenwriting for TV and movies. Emerson has a Los Angeles program, so I was able to move out to California right after I graduated. Acting has been my main profession since college, mostly doing commercials and television shows. I’ve been on shows like “Dexter,” “Without a Trace,” “Private Practice” and “Criminal Minds.” I also did one of the first ever Web-based series for the show “Lost” on ABC. The writing side really took a back seat until recently. 

I imagine the pandemic has been tough on you as an actor.

Yes, it’s been interesting. Fortunately, it did give me time to write a lot more, which wouldn’t have happened if not for the pandemic. Hollywood shut down briefly, but they were considered essential workers in this area. I’ve been home writing and spending time with my two girls, who are 7 and 3. It’s so lovely. We were doing “Zoom school” for a long time — bless all of our teachers! It was also great to have my older daughter around to bounce ideas off of in real time while we were writing this book. Some things you write might not make sense to a child, so that feedback was really great.

Have you always been an animal lover? Have you had pets of your own?

I grew up with Labs. My parents were big lovers of animals and they shared that love with me from an early age. A close friend of our family had a pit bull rescue when I was younger, and they were just big, lovable babies. But it wasn’t until I moved to LA that I actually set foot in an animal shelter. The shelters here are always full, and many of the dogs are owner surrendered. The pandemic has brought out both sides of that situation — some people lost their jobs and felt they could no longer support their dogs, while others saw being home more often as the right time to adopt a dog. 

Is this your first book? What inspired you to write this book?

Yes, it’s our first book! At the heart of it is dog rescue … I’ve been involved with dog rescues here in LA for a long time now, helping to get dogs out of shelters and raising awareness that you can adopt any kind of dog you want. We have a huge population of homeless dogs out here that end up in shelters and in bad situations. 

I had read about Joe Biden fostering and adopting a dog, and then when he won the presidency, that this dog who was brought off the streets as a sick puppy was going to the White House. I thought it was such a cool story with  a great message about how you can rescue any dog. It’s also a metaphor for being able to accomplish anything. I thought it would be great for more people to hear Major’s story. 

Co-author Erica Lee

Tell us about your co-writer, Erica Lee.

Erica is a movie producer that has also never written a book before. She’s produced all the “John Wick” movies along with many others. She and my husband grew up together in Florida, and we’re very close. We both have rescues of our own and loved hearing about Major. 

We are constantly brainstorming together, and we thought it would be great to show his story from the beginning, along with the whole process of fostering and adopting from start to finish. Our president had to take all of the same, normal steps that anyone else has to take when they decide to adopt a dog, and that’s pretty cool.

Many presidents have had dogs or other pets. Was there something particular that drew you to Major?

There have certainly been a lot of presidential pets, and I’ve known and loved them all! They are my own favorite “celebrities.” But there was something about Biden having these big, delicious puppies living a pretty normal life in Delaware.

It was easy to picture them just hanging out, and when Biden was vice president, he would give out little German shepherd stuffed animals. I feel like we know more about Major and Biden’s other dog, Champ. We’ve seen so many pictures of them through the explosion of social media in the last decade.

What was the writing process like for you? Did it take a long time?

When we first started the book, it was totally different from the finished product that’s out now. None of it rhymed. I love reading things that rhyme, and my kids really enjoy that. As someone that oversees stories as they’re being written, Erica was great about identifying lines that weren’t necessary and we each had a part to play.

It was a pretty fast process. We started writing at the end of November 2020 and the book was published on Feb. 10. We self-published because we wanted to keep costs down in order to donate the profits. We also wanted to move quickly to capitalize on the recent inauguration — traditional publishing can take quite a while. Our hardcover publisher was IngramSpark, and we used Amazon for paperback. 

Who illustrated this book? How did you connect?

Our illustrator, Tran Dang, lives overseas. We found her online through the website Fiverr, where we were able to look at some of her other work. It was important for us to work with another woman and for this project to be an all-girl crew, and we just loved her stuff — she’s done a lot of projects with animals that were so sweet. She did an amazing job.

What was it like for you to see the finished product?

It was incredible. Seeing our story come alive exactly how I pictured it was the coolest feeling, and so exciting,

What is the target age group for this book?

I would say that it’s best for kids ages 4 to 8.

What do you hope kids will get out of reading Major’s story?

One of the main themes is that Major isn’t like anybody else; he’s just himself, and his family loves and accepts him just as he is. He leads with kindness. I hope kids read this and know that they don’t have to be someone they’re not, as long as they are kind and try to make the world better.

How are you using your book to support animal welfare?

All of the proceeds from this book are going to benefit dog rescues in Los Angeles, including Dogs Without Borders. I have two dogs of my own from there. We’re not making any profits for ourselves at all. Depending on how the sales go, we would be interested in supporting rescues in other parts of the country, including the wonderful organizations on Long Island. Our main goal is to see more dogs getting out of shelters and into homes. We use the social media pages for the book to promote local dogs in need of homes as well — that’s actually led to a few adoptions already, which is exciting.

How can people get involved with helping dogs in their area?

Aside from adopting and volunteering with local groups, many places are always looking for dog beds and food. I like to donate old comforters. That’s a great way to help out.

Are you thinking about writing more books in the future?

For sure. I’m finishing up a screenplay right now, and looking forward to writing more books about dogs and supporting more shelters and rescues!

Major: Presidential Pup is available at Book Revue in Huntington and online retailers including Amazon and Barnes & Noble. To keep up with Jamie and Erica, their book and animals in need, visit http://linktr.ee/MajorPresidentialPup.

By Heidi Sutton

When Catherine and Anthony Hoang’s young son A.J. lost a family heirloom during a visit to the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum in the winter of 2017, the security staff, including Ed Clampitt, helped the Huntington family retrace their steps through the sprawling grounds and estate. The two-day search finally produced the precious object and became the inspiration for a new children’s book, Patches and Stripes: A ‘Vanderbilt Magic’ Story. Written by Clampitt and his fellow Vanderbilt Museum colleague and friend Ellen Mason, the beautiful 20-page book, told entirely in rhyme, features gorgeous illustrations by Olga Levitskiy. A book launch held at the museum in mid-October sold over 300 copies. I recently had an opportunity to speak to the two authors about their latest venture.

Ed, tell us when you first met the Hoang family and what did they lose?

It was a very cold Sunday, around midday. I greeted the car as I do all our visitors. They explained to me that they had visited the day before and lost a hat. They inquired if one had been turned in to the lost and found. When I told them no hat had been turned in, they asked if it was OK if they searched the property themselves, revisiting all the areas where they had gone. Of course, I said yes and offered them a ride to the mansion where they would begin their search.

On the initial trip down, they explained to me the significance of the hat and how desperate they were to find it. I encountered them a few more times during the day and each time their despair became more evident. All I could do was offer them hope and reassure them that, if the hat was indeed on the property, we would find it. The hat was indeed found. I won’t give away the ending. To briefly sum it up, I will say that I was overcome with joy knowing we helped the family and their joy in getting back the hat was immeasurable.

Why was this hat so special to them?

EC: The hat was a precious heirloom passed down from previous family members, eventually coming to little A.J. The hat itself can best be described as a small engineer’s cap, a style from days past. It had blue and white stripes  and was adorned with vintage patches depicting various railroad lines.

What inspired you to turn this true story into a children’s book?

EC: When I started to tell people the story and saw their reactions I knew it was a story that needed to be shared. When I shared the story with Ellen she immediately agreed and it fueled an inspiration in her that led to the book.

EM: After Ed told me the story of the hat, I wrote 10 stanzas of the poem fairly quickly. I just felt the story had the makings of a children’s book.

What parts of the museum are explored in the book?

EM: The security guards search for the hat in different areas of the museum. They start at the two eagles near the entrance, which originally stood at Grand Central Station in New York City. They proceed to the 6 ancient columns from Carthage that are 1000 years old. The mansion’s courtyard and iconic bell tower are beautifully illustrated as are the Habitat with the whaleshark. This lower museum was built in 1929 as a private museum for the entertainment of the Vanderbilt’s guests. The animal dioramas will remind visitors of those in the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

How did the Hoang family react when they heard you were writing a book based on their experiences?

EC: My first contact with Catherine about our plans for the book were via email. From the very beginning she was extremely honored and excited.

When did the family get to see the book for the first time?

EC: I believe they saw the book for the very first time at the book launch (see page B26). Ellen and I did our best to keep it under wraps as long as possible!

Tell us about the illustrator, Olga Levitskiy. How did you three connect?

EC: Olga is an immensely talented young woman that currently resides in New Jersey. I’ve had the pleasure of working with her in the past on previous projects. When Ellen and I decided to go forward with the book my only stipulation was that we use Olga as our illustrator. Having never met Olga, Ellen put her trust in me and I’m sure she would agree it was the right decision.

Her illustrations perfectly capture what the museum looks like. What was her process like?

EC: After we contracted with her, Olga visited the museum grounds and took photographs of just about everything imaginable. While I can’t speak to the exact process I can say that she first did a preliminary story board based on the text. She then does each illustration in pencil and eventually colorizes them in watercolor and colored pencil. Each page becomes an original piece of artwork, much larger than the pages of the book. Suffice to say that once you see the illustrations in the book you can really appreciate the painstaking process it involved.

EM: When Olga visited the museum she came on my mansion tour. Unbeknownst to me, she photographed me in the courtyard and later included me in one of her illustrations.

How did you go about getting published?

EC: Having previous experience self publishing children’s books, I was familiar with process. We used a printer that I have worked with in the past as well. They are based in Ohio. Another part of the blessing working with Olga is that she handled all of the technical aspects of the job for us.

From left, illustrator Olga Levitskiy, authors Ellen Mason and Ed Clampitt, and the Hoang family: Catherine, Anthony, son A.J., daughter Clara and grandfather John Gembinski, pose for a photo in the Vanderbilt Museum’s Carriage House during a book launch on Oct. 17. The family was presented with a family membership to the museum by Elizabeth Wayland-Morgan, Executive Director of the museum, a portrait of A.J. wearing his precious hat and copies of the book. The Hoang family gave the authors and illustrator each a railroad hat of their own. Photo by Heidi Sutton

This is also a great way to introduce children to the Vanderbilt Museum, yes?

EC: Absolutely! From the beginning our hope was to have the book become an extension of the museum, a way of being able to take the property home with you. The intent was to have the story take you on a tour of the museum and the grounds.

EM: Yes, the book may elicit interest in visiting to see the actual sites and exhibits highlighted in the book and can also reinforce a previous visit as well.

EM: Many school groups and summer day camps visit yearly. There are plans to perhaps offer the book in birthday party packages booked at the museum.

What type of response has the book been getting?

EC: The response has been amazing! Everyone has been so impressed and supportive. We are so proud of the finished product. It represents the Vanderbilt well and has allowed us to realize our dream.

EM: The Vanderbilt staff is so appreciative of how the illustrations capture the smallest details of the architecture and exhibits. Ed and I feel especially proud that this is the only children’s book ever written about Eagle’s Nest and it includes Max the cat, who now basks in his fame at the gatehouse.

What message do you want children  to take away from reading your book?

EC: On the forefront, the message is that the Vanderbilt is a true treasure, a place that we hope we inspire all to visit and continue to support. Additionally, it is a story of teamwork, hope and magic!

EM: The message is that there is value in studying history and the natural world; that one man’s life and generosity can enrich many other lives as well; and that goodness spreads; and the realization that all families have traditions that are important to them, sometimes symbolized by a treasured object.

Why do you think the Vanderbilt Museum is such a ‘magical’ place?

EC: Stories such as this one, the story that inspired the book, do not happen elsewhere. The place has an energy to it. It’s hard to explain. For those of us who are blessed to be able to work and spend time there, there is a love we share for the place … it makes you love it.

EM: I think it’s magical because of its romanticism — William K. Vanderbilt II built the estate out of love for his wife, Rosamond. The architecture and breathtaking setting that have been chosen by so many couples for their weddings.

Where can we pick up a copy of this book?

EC: Right now the books are sold exclusively in the Vanderbilt Museum’s gift shop. There will be the ability to purchase them online from the museum website soon. This entire project was intended as a donation to the Vanderbilt and proceeds go directly to benefit the museum.

Is there a recommended age group?

EC: I would say early readers but personally I am a big advocate of reading with a parent or as a family. I think this book is the perfect vehicle for that.

EM: Because the book is written as a 44 stanza poem, the musicality is suitable for younger children to be read to. Independent readers (grades 3 and 4) will pick up on the rhythm and rhyming pattern. I would love “Patches and Stripes” to inspire young readers to write their own poems showcasing a treasured possession.

Any more books on the horizon?

EM: One is already in the works, featuring Max the museum’s resident cat and his friend, security guard Ed. This one is also a narrative poem, like “Patches and Stripes.”

Catherine and A.J. Hoang

What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of writing a book?

EC: Write! Write! Write! If you have a story to tell, tell it! To write and create something that you can share with others is one of the most rewarding things you will ever do!

EM: My advice is to be patient. The process can move slowly, especially if illustrations are involved, but is well worth it. It never occurred to me to write any book, least of all one that rhymes. Yet here it is and I am so proud of it and grateful to Ed for suggesting that we collaborate on it. We present it as our gift to the Vanderbilt Museum for the many wonderful times it has given to us.

Anything else you would like to add?

EC: From the very beginning of all of this I have felt so strongly that this entire story, from the back story of the day the family visited, to the day we launched the book, is a story that needs to be told, from our point of view as well as the family’s. It is a story of how fate stepped in and changed lives … all for the better … how a simple visit to a local museum brought despair, then joy, validation, inspiration, pride and do much more … for the family, for Ellen and me and yes, even for the Vanderbilt … just a place, a piece of property devoid of feelings and emotions … unless you believe in magic.