Stinky beast gets sweet reception at library

An aromatic dinosaur held sway at the Kennett Public Library on Wednesday, May 4: Naps definitely did not.

John xx, the children's librarian at the Kennett Public Library, watches an enthralled group of preschoolers during a presentation by author Margie Palatini.

John Hendrix, the children's librarian at the Kennett Public Library, watches an enthralled group of preschoolers during a presentation by children's author Margie Palatini.

A question about the latter elicited the expected, animated chorus of “nooooos” from a group of preschoolers. Not surprisingly, a few adults disagreed with that response.

But even if the tots had been inclined to snooze, a high-energy performance from an award-winning children’s author would have likely prevented that outcome. Instead, a group of about 30 children, parents, and a couple grandparents listened intently as Margie Palatini, the beloved creator of books such as “Piggie Pie,” “Moo Hoo?” and “Mooseltoe,” worked her magic.

Palatini read two of her books: “No Nap! Yes Nap!” – the tale of a spirited baby intent on avoiding her mother’s efforts to put her to bed – and "Gorgonzola," which chronicles the efforts of a sassy bird to teach an orphaned dinosaur – “a primo stinko” – the benefits of soap and water, ultimately declaring him the first “ex-stink” beast.

Library Director Donna Murray said the program happened because she got a call from Rita Langdon, the librarian at Unionville Elementary School, who said that Palatini, who lives in Plainfield, N.J., would be visiting the school on May 4 in case Murray wanted to arrange a stop in Kennett Square.

Four-year-old Norah waits as author Margie Palatini signs her copy of 'Perfect Pet.'

Four-year-old Norah Shampine waits as author Margie Palatini signs her copy of 'The Perfect Pet.'

Murray said the library’s Special Events Committee and all the volunteers who participated in last year's Home and Garden Day Tour made the program possible. “They give us the funds that enable us to do special events like this,” Murray said. “We really appreciate their efforts.”

And so did the audience. Rachel Wells of Kennett Square said both of her children, 4-year-old Soren and 16-month-old Etta, enjoyed the experience. “I thought she did a great job,” Wells said of Palatini. “Her voices were just amazing.”

“This was just great,” added Carolyn Shampine, who brought her two daughters, Claire, 2, and Norah, 4, from Hockessin. “I’m so glad we were able to come.” She said Norah was particularly excited to meet “a real life author.”

Janice and Frank Olszewksi of Kennett Square got called into service when work demands prevented their granddaughter’s parents from accompanying her to the library. So they brought 3-year-old Hannah Hassel to the presentation, where all of them had a great time. “I’m glad it worked out that we could bring her,” Janice Olszewski said. “It was really fun.”

At Unionville Elementary, Palatini made two presentations: one to kindergartners and first-graders and one to second- and third-graders, said Langdon.

"She was delightful – and very dramatic," said Langdon, referencing the author's animated inflection and creative voices. She said Palatini, who said she never repeats a presentation on the same day, started off with a personal story that helped the students understand where the inspiration for that tale originated.

At Unionville Elementary, author Margie Palatini (left) watches as students display the page proofs for one of her books.

At Unionville Elementary, author Margie Palatini (left) watches as students display the page proofs for one of her books before they are sliced and bound. Photo courtesy of Rita Langdon

Langdon said she was thrilled that the partnership with the library worked so well, and she hopes to repeat it. She explained that bringing in authors incurs costs that aren't covered in the regular budget; her funding came from Unionville Elementary's PTO.

"I've just always loved her books," said Langdon of Palatini. "It was a wonderful experience."

For Palatini, the accolades are particularly gratifying when she reflects on how her career as a children’s book author and illustrator almost didn’t happen. A native “Jersey girl,” she said she got a great education at Moore College of Art and Design in Philadelphia, but did not major in illustration.

After graduation, she fulfilled her goal of going to work for an advertising firm. But she noted that the kind of specialized training that Moore delivers in creativity and problem-solving fortunately facilitates changing gears, which she did after she got married, retired, and had a baby.

Palatini, who described herself as a lifelong storyteller, said she could remember using paper towels to create books when she was a child. The first book she wrote as an adult, “Piggie Pie,” told the story of a group of wily pigs who masquerade as other creatures to avoid becoming ham sandwiches.

Award-winning children's author Margie Palatini (right) poses with Kennett Public Library Director Donna Murray.

Award-winning children's author Margie Palatini (right) poses with Kennett Public Library Director Donna Murray.

Deemed definitively “not funny” by a publisher, “Piggie Pie” was relegated to a reject bin in Palatini’s home. When her son became a toddler, she happened upon the manuscript and read it to him one night. “He just couldn’t stop giggling,” she said. “He wanted me to read it over and over and over.”

Buoyed by his enthusiasm, she said she decided to violate publishing protocol and find someone to do the illustrations. Typically, the publisher makes those pairings. She contacted Howard Fine, who worked for her husband’s advertising firm. The story made Fine laugh, and he agreed to add the pictures.

The first agent who received the book loved it, Palatini said, but not enough to overcome a major obstacle: Neither Palatini nor Fine was a known commodity. Having one recognizable name is often a requirement to seal a book deal, she said.

Fortunately, Fine knew someone at another publishing house who was willing to take a risk that paid dividends. Palatini, who has now written 40 books, three of which she illustrated herself, said “Piggie Pie” is one of her best sellers.

In addition to reinforcing the value of her arts education, Palatini said the experience taught her valuable lessons about the importance of patience and perseverance. It also taught her to rely on her son, who is now 28, for feedback and ideas.

“For a long time, he was my giggle-tester,” Palatini said. “He’s still a consultant. Sometimes I’ll say, ‘I’m stuck; where do I go with this?’”

Palatini said her ideas come from all around her. “I don’t go out and search,” she said. “There’s no Idea Depot. I get ideas from everyone, everywhere. We’ve all had experiences but may not recognize them as the jumping-off point for a book. I guess that’s one of the mysteries of creativity.”

Readers of “Hogg, Hogg & Hog” will see the influence of Palatini’s advertising stint as a group of porcine executives create global trends like “oinking.” Palatini said her favorite book is “Three French Hens,” involving the odyssey of three birds sent as a holiday gift from a French mademoiselle. Rather than arriving on her true love’s doorstep, the package lands in the hands of a salivating Phil Fox, initiating comic and poignant results. “It’s funny and it makes me cry,” Palatini said.

But it’s the humor in Palatini’s stories that has generated the most praise. Her books have garnered dozens of awards, and many regularly appear on lists of the best children’s books.








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