Like any city, Santa Clarita is home to a number of different creative minds, but what many don’t know is it’s also home to a number of children’s authors.
Writing a book is no easy task, whether it’s a “War and Peace”-length novel or one of the selections below, which, intended for a younger audience, is much shorter.
Once the author has decided to sit down and commit pen to paper, then the challenges begin. One must find the right topic, the proper approach, the appropriate voice and, perhaps the biggest challenge, unless it’s a self-published work, finding a publisher that believes in the project, and will back a vision to fruition.
Here’s a look at four local authors who have authored children’s works, and a little bit about their family-friendly stories.
“My Very Special Scar” by Jameeliah Joy Hadley
Jameeliah Joy Hadley was diagnosed with a stage-4 Wilms’ tumor, a rare childhood cancer that affects the kidneys, on Christmas Day — just three days after her sixth birthday.
Hadley was immediately sent into emergency surgery, where the doctor opened her up from her clavicle all the way to her pelvis. She spent the next few weeks recovering and going through various other procedures, such as radiation, chemotherapy and spinal taps, before she was cleared to return to kindergarten.
By that time, Hadley’s appearance had changed drastically — she was extremely thin, completely bald and had a scar on her chest.
“The teasing, whispers, pointing fingers and the many, many questions — from kids and adults — was something I was not prepared for and something no one had warned me of,” Hadley said. “It was constantly a reminder of something I was trying so hard to forget.”
A few years ago, Hadley’s best friend, Deneasha, asked her for advice in order to help her 9-year-old daughter, Jayden, who was also being teased by her classmates regarding a similar scar she received as an infant after open-heart surgery.
“I really didn’t know the words to say at that time, so I did some research and looked online to see if there was a children’s book that were written for children and their parents on this topic, and the only ones I came across were medical reference books,” Hadley said. “It just clicked.”
It took Hadley a long time to figure out exactly how to tell the story, but in December 2016, Hadley published “My Very Special Scar,” a story about a young puppy who is left with a huge scar after surgery, similar to Hadley and Jayden’s. After some encouraging words, the puppy learns to embrace the scar and “recognize his inner warrior.”
“It’s a true story based on one of the hardest times of my life, but it also was a time where I was at my strongest,” Hadley added. “A story of a true warrior, someone who fought a battle and won the war with the markings to prove it. I just want kids to realize that they can find beauty within themselves and others, inside and out, no matter what’s different about them.”
Hadley’s goal is to get her book into every pediatric hospital in the nation, so she can help kids recognize that their scar makes them special.
“Reach for the Stars” by Ken Dean
When Ken Dean was in his 20s, he was told by a handwriting analyst that he was going to be a writer. He was an actor at the time, and said he laughed at the thought of it.
Now, years later, Dean has written various children’s books and is in the process of publishing “Reach for the Stars,” a children’s history book “of visionaries and their dreams,” the cover reads.
The book includes various people in history that have made an impact, such as Mother Teresa, Jackie Robinson, Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell and Douglas MacArthur, along with a blank page at the end so that kids can fill in their dream.
“They may be 12 years old, and then 10 years later, they can look back and see what their dream was,” Dean said.
It took Dean three years of research to complete the 18 histories included in the book, and he has met with the publisher various times to get the book just right.
“I wanted to pick people that I thought made a big impact and still do — there are so many people that have left so much,” Dean added. “I just wanted something and someone for everybody.”
Dean was a teacher at the time he was working on the book, and decided to hire one of his students, Mayra Espinoza, who he always saw drawing, to complete the artwork for the book.
Each person’s history is also just a page long, short enough so that kids can get the gist of it, yet not get lost in the lengthy information, according to Dean.
“I went to the bookstore and looked at some books, some go on and on and on — kids aren’t going to read them,” Dean said.
“Reach for the Stars” is still in the publishing process, but should be ready to be released in the coming weeks. And though Dean has written quite a few children’s books, this one is his “baby,” and his goal is to get it into schools. Next, Dean hopes to continue publishing some of his other books.
“Moon Babies” by Karen Jameson
Karen Jameson said she fell in love with picture books through her time teaching elementary school and raising her children. She had always dreamt of becoming an author, and thought, “Some day, I’ll write a book.”
When she was nearing retirement, she finally decided the time was right and joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators so she could learn how to write for children.
In 2016, she had written her first book, “Moon Babies,” a bedtime book about “a secret little moon world where baby moons grow up,” she added.
“People over the ages have been fascinated with the moon,” she added. “I grew up at a time when the NASA space program was going on, and I remember as a kid, when the first astronaut walked on the moon … So, (‘Moon Babies’) just fuels the imagination about moons and what could be.”
Picture books take a long time to be published, according to Jameson, so “Moon Babies” is finally set to be released July 2, ironically, in the same month as the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. For that reason, she has decided to schedule her book launch and signing on the actual anniversary, July 20.
“It’s been a long journey, but I’m very excited to finally have the book in my hands,” Jameson said.
Jameson had originally challenged herself to write a set of four bedtime books, so she already has a couple more books in the works, one set to be released in the fall of 2020 and the second the following year.
Now, she’s still going to continue writing, and is hoping to write some nonfiction picture books as well as a sequel to “Moon Babies.”
The “Moon Babies” book launch event and signing is scheduled for 11 a.m. July 20 at Barnes & Noble, located at 23630 Valencia Blvd., in celebration of both the book and the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. For more information, visit karenljameson.com.
“Fitz & Fry’s Galactic Workout” by Keith Oden
Keith Oden has been a personal trainer for six years. After being asked about children’s fitness multiple times by his clients, Oden decided to create something they could use to get their kids excited about exercising.
“A lot of clients have children and would ask about ways to get their kids involved in exercise at an early age, and I saw a gap there,” Oden said.
Oden began work on a book, researching the types of exercises that kids could do and decided on a space theme, after seeing his nieces and nephews working on a school project where they had to build a styrofoam solar system.
“I grew up in the ‘ET’-era and (space was) always something I gravitated toward,” he added. “Kids tend to gravitate toward aliens and space, too, so (the book) is based around two alien brothers who like to exercise around the solar system.”
Soon, he had the concept in place, and had created “Fitz & Fry’s Galactic Workout,” where two alien brothers use the various elements of the solar system to work out, such as running laps around Saturn’s rings and doing pull-ups on Pluto.
As a personal trainer, Oden described his job as getting his clients “through something that is not always fun and seeing the confidence return to them,” which is exactly what his goal was through the book with the help of Fitz and Fry.
“I wanted to write a book that if teachers wanted to use it in class, they could read it then do the exercises,” he said. “If there’s a way to introduce (exercise) to them at an early age, it gets them in a better (fitness) habit while letting them express themselves.”
Since the book was completed, Oden has read it at a couple of local elementary schools, and said feedback has been positive.
“I would read a page and then ask if they know how to do the exercise,” he added. “Then we’d do the exercises … You’d have the kids doing squats and, by the time you’re done with the book, they get a short workout without really knowing it.”
Oden completed the book in 2015, and since then, has written follow-up stories with the same characters and similar, health-related topics.