Today, Hartford Books Examiner welcomes Lisa Saunders.
Ms. Saunders is the author of “Once Upon a Placemat: A Table Setting Tale” (CreateSpace) along with Jackie Tortora and Illustrator Marianne Greiner—which she’ll present at A Taste of New England in Mystic tomorrow (Saturday, February 27th) at 1:00 p.m. A speaker and award-winning writer, she works as a part-time history interpreter at Mystic Seaport. She is a graduate of Cornell University, and the author of several books and a winner of the National Council for Marketing & Public Relations Gold Medallion. Ms. Saunders is the parent representative of the Congenital CMV Foundation. She makes her home in Mystic, Connecticut, with her husband and beagle/basset hound. Ms. Tortora is a digital strategist living with her husband and their son in Northern Virginia.
“Once Upon a Placemat” was published earlier this month and is currently averaging 5 stars on Amazon. Marti Perhach, Group B Strep International, praised: “Lisa Saunders is always such an entertaining author. I love how she subtly educates her readers on infection prevention while telling her story. Her audience not only gets to enjoy a clever fairytale, but gets to learn important life lessons on how to protect babies from congenital CMV and other infections.” Further, Dr. Gail Demmler Harrison noted the title to be “a clever way to get across an important message about prevention of infectious diseases common to us all! Most people know about how colds and flu are spread, but they don’t know about how other germs are spread by sharing food, drinks and utensils! As a doctor, I recommend it to my young patients and their families. As a grandmother, I have shared ‘A Table Setting Tale’ with my granddaughter!”
From the publisher:
When Lisa can’t remember how to set the table, her grandmother teaches her to listen to the silverware. Learn why the table is set the way it is. Why does the knife keep a sharp eye on the plate? Why does the fork want a napkin bed and the cup insist she and the others get a bath before being shared? Book includes germ prevention tips and how to stop congenital cytomegalovirus (CMV), the leading viral cause of birth defects. Women of childbearing age should not share dishes with their children. Book also includes link to free downloadable placemats for coloring.
Now, Lisa Saunders reveals the story behind “Once Upon a Placemat” …
John Valeri: What inspired you to write “Once Upon a Placemat: A Table Setting Tale” – and how does this project celebrate the generations of your family?
Lisa Saunders: My grandmother often gave inanimate objects a voice when telling me a story, so I decided tableware should speak, too. If we could hear them, then we would understand why they sit on a specific spot on the placemat. Why does the knife keep his teeth toward the plate? Is he really afraid the dish will run away with the spoon? When I wrote the tableware’s feelings in my children’s novel, “Ride a Horse Not an Elevator,” my daughter Jackie felt they deserved to have a book of their own, which she put together when she was 12, calling it “Once Upon a Placemat.” I recalled her idea for a stand-alone book when I was contacted by a family on Thanksgiving 2015 saying that after their children read “Ride a Horse Not an Elevator,” they could finally remember how to set the table. So, I officially published “Once Upon a Placemat” as a separate book so the tableware would know their saga was being taken seriously!
JV: The story educates and informs. How do you endeavor to balance the two – and, in your opinion, what is the importance of storytelling in the development of young minds?
LS: The balance of educating while entertaining has been a part of storytelling through the ages. The Grimm Brothers earned their place in history not for writing fairytales, but for recording stories that entertained youth while teaching them significant life lessons. I attempt to keep this tradition. Storytelling is a way of handing down life lessons and morals in a memorable way. “Once Upon a Placemat” teaches problem solving skills for interpersonal conflicts, in addition to the traditions of table-setting and germ prevention. Although there are tensions between the tableware, they each have a function and work together as a team—when put in their proper place to minimize the friction. The story emphasizes the tableware’s diversity, yet willingness to serve the common good. Although the fork doesn’t care to have a conversation with the knife, if given his privacy on the opposite side of the plate, he will work with him when needed to cut meat, etc.
JV: You include tips for germ prevention. Why is this important – and what resources are available for those looking to learn more about Congenital Cytomegalovirus (CMV)?
LS: Making it a habit to wash hands before meals and not sharing drinks, etc., can prevent some debilitating diseases—and I’m not just talking about the common cold. Toddlers are often shedding a virus called cytomegalovirus (CMV), which is unlikely to harm them or present with any obvious symptoms, but if a pregnant mother contracts CMV from her toddler, her unborn baby may become severely disabled by the virus. Congenital (meaning present at birth) CMV is the leading viral cause of birth defects according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Every hour, a baby is born disabled by congenital CMV in the U.S. Disabilities may include an abnormally small head, learning disabilities, cerebral palsy and hearing loss. In 2015, I collaborated with parents of children disabled by congenital CMV and the medical community to see Connecticut become the second state in the country to enact a law to help mitigate this terrible disease. Congenital CMV is much more widespread than the Zika virus carried by mosquitos. To learn more about preventing prenatal infections such as congenital CMV, as well as Zika, visit the CDC’s page, “Pregnant or Planning to Get Pregnant?” at: http://www.cdc.gov/features/prenatalinfections/index.html
JV: The book has interactive elements for readers. What are these – and how might they create a more fun and meaningful experience?
LS: I include images of the tableware characters for coloring in addition to my grandmother’s recipes for the foods eaten in the story. Coloring the tableware on their placemat reinforces where they belong. Families can have fun making and eating together the meal shared by the grandmother and young girl. People can click on this link to free placemats for downloading and coloring (one placemat version includes space for organizations to place their own logo/information before distributing if interested). Nutritionist Alison Dvorak, MS, RDN, CDN, of Franklin, Connecticut, said of “Once Upon a Placemat”: “The lesson of how to set a table is valuable as this is part of encouraging a family to sit down and eat together—a main intervention in preventing obesity.”
JV: Tell us about your collaboration with Marianne Greiner. How do her illustrations enhance your story?
LS: Marianne, my sister-in-law, did the original illustrations of the tableware in my children’s novel, “Ride a Horse Not an Elevator.” When she learned I wanted to expand the tableware story, she drove from upstate New York to spend the weekend with me in Mystic. She immersed herself in the characters, spending time with my grandmother’s silverware spread across the dining room table, so she could convey their personalities in simple, yet amusing line drawings. My words were partly shaped by her vision of the silverware, and her drawings were partly shaped by the obstacles the tableware had to overcome. It was her idea to show the tableware peeking out of the grandmother’s windows when I introduce the story—a brilliant way to convey their prominent place in our homes. Marianne succeeds in using non-verbal communication to share what the tableware are thinking, which is critical for remembering how to set the table. She chose to keep several illustrations simple so they would lend themselves for coloring.
JV: Many people underestimate the difficulty of writing for children. Having written for both young and older audiences, what are the unique challenges of doing so – and why do both demographics appeal to you?
LS: I like to imagine what pets, toys—and utensils, are “thinking,” so it is natural for me to share those thoughts with children. The unique challenge when writing for children is to write for the adult as well. The story must include elements that are appealing to all ages. If the child finds delight in the characters or plot, and the parent can appreciate the subtle nuances in the story, then adult and child are brought together in a shared experience, thus strengthening their bond. Story telling is as much about bringing generations together as it is teaching a truth. I enjoy writing for adults when I want company traveling back in time without having to consider a child’s attention span. When I wrote my travel memoir, “Mystic Seafarer’s Trail,” I wanted to bring the adults with me as my adventures unfolded into graveyards, old captain’s logs, and my winter voyage with a blind sailor. My next book is for adults: “Images of Modern America: Mystic,” co-authored with Kent and Meredith Fuller. It will be released on July 4 by Arcadia Publishing.
JV: Do you have any upcoming author events for “Once Upon a Placemat”?
LS: Yes. People can check my website for an up-to-date list at www.authorlisasaunders.com. As of this date, I will be available for discussing the book at the following venues:
Saturday, February 27, 1 – 3 p.m.
A Taste of New England
12 Steamboat Wharf, Mystic, CT, 06355
Friday, April 15, 2016, 4:30pm
Niantic Community Church Children’s Center
170 Pennsylvania Ave., Niantic, CT. 06357
(860)739-0877, Kathy Tiller, Director
Sunday, April 17, from 1-3 p.m.
Bank Square Books
53 W Main St, Mystic, CT 06355
With thanks to Lisa Saunders for her generosity of time and thought.