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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

A story to tell: First-time author takes dad's old tale

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Suanne Polasky loves the cover of her children's book "Trapped!" featuring Little Black Bear and Little Gray Fox -- but she left the inside artwork to be done by her readers.
(T-G Photo by Mary Reeves)
The story of Little Black Bear and Little Gray Fox has been told in Suanne Polasky's family for more than half a century -- to children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, nieces, nephews and cousins.

And now, thanks to her first book, "Trapped!," she can share the story with every child, not just those in her family or her classrooms.

"It's a version of my dad's story," said Suanne, who works in the Bedford County Schools special education department. "He used to tell it to us, oh, I guess more than 60 years ago."

As the story evolved over the years, the important things stayed the same -- the characters and the message. It's a cautionary tale about listening to good advice and resisting peer pressure. Suanne said for years one of her sisters-in-law urged them to write it down. But the original storyteller, a retired farmer in Wilson, N.Y. who was active in local politics, civic duties, and his family, never found the time.

Time and faith

It took a long, holiday weekend, prayer and a leap of faith before Suanne wrote the story down herself.

"I sat at the computer over Presidents Day weekend," she said. "The more I prayed, the faster I typed."

The tale involves two best friends, a little black bear and a little gray fox -- and what happens when they have to choose between parental advice and the natural tendency of youngsters to push the limits. Will they be stolen away from their parents to live at the zoo instead? Will they return safe and sound? Will they learn from their mistakes?

The message is weighted with scripture passages, but it's not at all heavy-handed. Suanne even includes a study page in the back of the book to help parents lead their children through a discussion of the books and the message it carries, including specific scripture passages.

"It's not just a good, moral story," she said. "It's putting God's word into their hands."

Personal touch

But that's not all she's putting into the children's hands. Every child who gets one of Suanne's book gets an additional treat -- he or she gets to illustrate it. There are wide, white spaces on every other page, with instructions tucked away neatly at the bottom.

"Draw Little Black Bear and Little Gray Fox eating blackberries."

"Draw Little Gray Fox looking nervous and upset."

The book comes with an illustrator's page, where the child gets to sign his own name and date. It also includes a warning -- use colored pencils or crayon only -- markers tend to bleed through.

"I didn't have enough money for an illustrator," Suanne confessed, laughing.

Creative idea

She'd chosen to self-publish the book, but approached a publisher that was still very particular about its client list. Just because WinePress Publishing and its children's division Pleasant Words, does print on demand publishing, neither company will accept a manuscript they feel doesn't meet their standards, said Suanne.

"They said they have a reputation to uphold," she said.

She submitted the manuscript and quickly the acceptance came through. Then they asked her about illustrations.

"I prayed about it," she said. She told the publishers that she felt the children were meant to illustrate the book themselves.

"There was a long silence on the other end of the line," said Suanne. "I thought, 'They hate the idea.'"

No -- in fact, they told her it was a brilliant idea. The suggestion even helped shape the size of the book -- making it slightly larger than some paperbacks to leave room for young artists, but smaller than a coloring book would be, retaining its presence as a quality story book, not just a coloring book.

Of course, Suanne stresses to the children who receive her books, including those in her third grade Sunday school class, that this one is special and can be drawn in -- but they can't draw in any others.

Book signing

She will be at the New Covenant Christian Bookstore to autograph copies of "Trapped!'" from noon until 2 p.m. Saturday, part of the store's Christian Store Day observation.

"I can't take credit for any of this," said Suanne. "It's been a step-by-step process of prayer. I could feel the Lord leading me through all of it.

"It's been a wonderful journey."