Local authors publish children’s books in time for Christmas gifts

by Mary Helen Darah

Ferdinand the Cat is inspiration for first book

Katie Maskey, product sales manager (AKA “the cookie lady”), works with children of all ages. Combine the inspiration Maskey receives from working with an eclectic group of girls with increased free-time, due to a global pandemic, and you get a children’s book celebrating individual uniqueness.
The new author has turned a negative situation into a positive outcome. “As soon as things shut down I was experiencing anxiety and nervousness,” recalled Maskey. “I needed something positive to focus on. I love watching my cat Ferdinand. He is a polydactyl, a condition where a person or animal has more than five fingers or toes. Along with his extra extremities, his personality is a bit different as well. It came to me that through him, I could show kids about the importance of acceptance and embracing their uniqueness. I wanted to use him as a representative to show kids that it is important to embrace differences. Plus, he is pretty darn cute.”
Maskey’s story features her beloved feline Ferdinand who knows he is different. He also knows that even though he has extra toes his mother is always supportive and continually tells him how special he is. Although he has support at home, he struggles because none of the other cats in the neighborhood wants to “hang out” with him because he is different. One day he ventures outside and follows some other cats and gets himself in a bit of a predicament. However, this time having extra digits proves to be beneficial and he saves the day. 
The new author hopes children will learn about acceptance and diversity through her book and the importance of celebrating everyone’s uniqueness. Maskey is an advocate for invisible disabilities and her book’s illustrator is also an advocate for families with children living with disabilities. “I wrote the book from my heart,” said Maskey. “I used my own thoughts and experiences. My illustrator, Ashley Thoreen, has a son who is autistic. She is also my former boss at the Girl Scouts, turned tattoo artist and now book illustrator. The two of us used our own exposure dealing with disabilities to convey the importance of learning about those around you and the challenges they face.”
When asked if there are more books in the works Maskey stated, “Stay tuned. My illustrator also has thoughts for additional books. It was important for me to work with someone that I knew would be as invested in the project as I was. I am still working through the learning curve yet it is such a positive experience especially during these crazy times. The community support has been awesome. Once I shared it with people they began purchasing the book. It was a little fun project that I never thought would leave my house, let alone go into others’ homes. That truly means so much to me.”

‘Murray the Monster’ learns to like himself

Coronavirus has dusted the world with a heavy layer of despair, playing havoc; wrecking plans and disrupting lives. However, long- time friends Sally Micsko and Alex Parquette, found this to be the perfect time to realize their dream and goal they set when they were in the fifth grade. This dream was to write a “real” book and so they did. “Murray the Monster” by Sally Micsko and Alex Parquette was just released on Nov. 14.
The two first met at Stepping Stones Preschool and became fast friends in second grade. By fifth grade in addition to a multitude of other creative projects, the two had started writing little books made of construction paper. “We had so much fun and talked about writing books when we grew up,” noted Micsko, a 2020 Miami University graduate.
So, early last spring when COVID-19 cancelled graduation along with other major events and forced her to jettison her gap year plans before entering graduate school, Micsko sent her friend a text reminding her of their fifth grade promise. “Let’s write our book,” Micsko suggested.
“Why not, since we are stuck indoors anyway,” agreed Parquette, a 2020 graduate from The Ohio State University. “We both enjoy writing and we like kids. We also feel we are very childlike, as well.”
The two put together a plan and, starting in May, began brainstorming. “We both wanted our book to have a purpose and after a couple of meetings and a lot of thought, we came up with addressing the issue of self-image,” Parquette said. “I think we all struggle with that in some way.”
Once the theme was set, they set about creating the main character. “We agreed that we also wanted to do the illustrations ourselves. But we are not able to draw people or animals very well so we decided to have a monster tell the story,” Micsko reported.
“We made tons of prototypes before Murray appeared,” Parquette offered. “We both had assignments to complete between meetings.”
The two also developed an online survey to get feedback from friends and family on length, color schemes and other aspects of what would make an interesting and engaging children’s book.
Over the summer the friends met weekly or biweekly to complete the story. “We had decided to make each two-page spread about a body part. For example, Murray talks about how he doesn’t like his teeth on one page. And the next page shows him realizing just what his teeth do and why they are important to him regardless of how he thinks they look,” Parquette explained.
“We made a list of all of the body parts we wanted to address and another list of what each page would look like,” Micsko said. “And everything Murray says rhymes.”
It was during their senior year at Southview in Darlene Blakey’s English class that they were assigned to do an oral book report on “Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad. The two friends decided to do a rap, which netted them an A+ and the knowledge that they were very good writing in rhyme.
“We really had fun doing this project. It is exciting to see Murray come to life on the pages of his book and help us realized a long time goal and dream we’ve shared. This was the right time for us to make this happen,” Micsko shared.

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