Be the change that you want the book to bring to the world. We as teachers and parents as well as authors live by the premise of caring and sharing. I firmly believe I am a caring teacher and lead by example daily at work. I am a loving parent. Kevin is a very generous and giving fine human being. He is generous in his actions to his family and friends and philanthropy.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Lillian Stulich. Lillian is author of Host a Little Ghost and the Story of the Mystical Mums, earned her B.A. in English at Trenton State College. She pursued her Masters in Education at Monmouth University. Currently she continues to write as well as teach. Her career in the Toms River School Districts spans over 23 years. She gets her writing inspiration from her students as well as her family, especially her daughter. When Lillian isn’t teaching or writing she loves to spend time with her daughter, Stephanie, her husband Steven and their 2 dogs Walter and Crumbles.
Thank you so much for joining us, Lillian! Can you share the “backstory” about how you grew up?
Toms River Intermediate East was the setting of my middle school years in the 1980s. Those wonder years were long ago… however, that school is still wondrous to me! Intermediate East is the school that I have been teaching 6th grade for the past 15 years; the school and our students gave us the inspiration to write our book: Host a Little Ghost and the Story Of the Mystical Mums. Events after Superstorm Sandy became the catalyst of true teaching collaboration. Colleague, Kevin McCormick and I became co-authors and High School East art teacher Bill Dishon illustrated our vivid book.
Long before the early emergent reading program, “Hooked on Phonics” became an educational tool that parents could purchase, I as a first grader at Emma Havens Young in Brick, NJ became hooked on phonics, thanks to my teacher, Miss Antonasi. She gave me the educational gift of learning to decipher letter sounds as well as a lifelong love of reading.
Without knowing the word “pivotal” at such a young age, it was a pivotal moment. The paired letters & pictures that bordered the blackboard now had sounds! I still hear and see her saying, the “Ya” phonetic sound for Yo-Yo and Yellow…
Books are so special to me. One Christmas, when we were still living in our house in Brick, NJ my mother gave me a blue-boxed set of Dr. Seuss books. I loved that collection of books! One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish…the colors, the characters, the words! Were these really words? And what was a can-opening Zans or a Yink who drinks pink ink? I just knew that I liked the rhythm and rhyme of the story.
Moving on to Toms River Hooper Elementary School in 2nd grade had me moving on to another collection of books that my mother gifted me. Judy Blume would soon become my favorite elementary school age author. Blume inspired me to write a short story entitled, “Color Me Red, Color Me Purple.” I don’t recall the entire premise, however, I vividly remember my Great Aunt Florence smiling and said, “Keep writing Buddha.” Buddha was her nickname for me because somehow I went from being a 5.5 lb baby to a chubby toddler. Ultimately the Buddha belly disappeared but her inspiration never has and will always be remembered.
In high school I was always happy when magazines came in the mail! Aside from the popular teenage magazines like, TeenBeat and Seventeen; Reader’s Digest and Good Housekeeping were my favorites. The Reader’s Digest section called “Word Power” with its varying monthly themes probably helped my with my SAT’s in high school.
College came with many opportunities to socialize and grow as a person. And I did. In fact, I fell in love…with a thesaurus. Whenever I wrote, I had that book by my side. By the time I graduated from Trenton State College in 1994 with a B.A. in English, that book was marked up, underlined, worn, and very much loved.
When I attended graduate school at Monmouth University in 1994, I felt like I circled back to my youth. In addition to the education classes that I needed to take to pursue my Masters in Education, I found myself in a Children’s Literature class. It was a summer class and the professor was a young mom. Something about the way she spoke about the children’s books, was light and breezy just like a summer day. One book that I learned to appreciate (that the professor spoke about that summer) when I too became a mom is Llama, Llama, Red Pajama by the late author Anna Dewdney. In some way, she along with Dr. Seuss inspired part of my writings. My favorite thing about Llama, Llama, Red Pajama is Anna Dewdney’s voice as she read it aloud to my daughter, Stephanie, on audio book. This would later become my inspiration for our annual autumn book reading event at the Novins Planetarium in Toms River, NJ. Stephanie and I had the wondrous opportunity to narrate Host a Little Ghost shown on the planetarium dome. Pajama dressed children came to our show with their glow in the dark Little Ghost. It was like a book rock concert for kids! And my favorite child, my Stephanie, her voice lit up the room brighter than Little Ghost that night! Thank you professor and Anna Dewdney for your inspiration too.
I am thankful to my teachers for teaching me to read and to my mother for giving me with books. Dr. Seuss, Judy Blume and many other authors influenced my youth. When someone asks, how did you grow up…I say I grew up reading… and to borrow a quote from Dr. Seuss when it comes to writing and reading and life… remember: “Today is gone. Today was fun. Tomorrow is another one.”
When you were younger, was there a book that you read that inspired you to take action or changed your life? Can you share a story?
When you do not have a lot of worldly experience, open up a book! You learn about the world and a lot about people from books. I love to time travel too! And I have been doing it since I was a little girl. All the books I have ever read from E.B. White to F.Scott Fitzgerald have inspired me to take action and have changed my life. The characters in every book have in someway shed a glimpse of past lives and what is possible to come in my life.
What was the moment or series of events that made you decide to bring your message to the greater world? Can you share a story about that?
The theme of our children’s book, Host a Little Ghost and the Story of the Mystical Mums, is the reinforcement of caring and sharing of oneself, family, and community. There is no better inspiration for these feelings of caring and sharing then the love of a child. I became a mom to my daughter, Stephanie, in 2008.
Stephanie inspired me to like the Halloween holiday including dress up and trick or treat! We had her first annual Halloween party when she was 2 years old. By the time she was 4 or 5 we had a complete repertoire of Halloween activities. The most memorable party had to be in 2012 just days before Superstorm Sandy ravaged the Jersey Shore.
I was so happy that she and her friends had experienced Halloween treats. The days that followed the hurricane were very tricky for children and our entire region.
There was no candy given out or character costumes being donned, instead children and parents, and neighbors rallied together and brought out the best of the best of their own characters. Schools were transformed from educational facilities into storm shelters. Grown-ups a well as our towns children served as volunteers in multiple capacities including getting food and supplies in those of need.
When we finally returned to Intermediate East, one of the many schools in our district that served as a shelter and volunteer site, Kevin and I felt that there was a renewed community feeling amongst the students and staff. We wanted to capture the fortitude, survivorship, caring and sharing that our students went through during those recovery weeks. Kevin and I wove the happy feelings from Halloweens past into our story as well as the reinforcement of remembering to stop and smell the flowers or to go along with the myth of our book, plant and smell the mums. Life is a whirlwind…
What impact did you hope to make when you wrote this book?
Host a Little Ghost and the Story of the Mystical Mums was a true collaboration. Fellow teaching colleague, Kevin McCormick and I came up with the idea while on lunch duty. We had just gotten back to work/school and we witnessed as well as felt a renewed school spirit amongst the students. High School art teacher, Bill Dishon read our manuscript and came up with the best artwork to bring our story to life!
We dedicated our book to our school students at Toms River Intermediate East; they had the biggest impact on us teachers!
We had never thought about having an “impact.” We just wanted to write and create. And that is what we did. The impact to inspire students to become writers soon came after a conversation we had with a colleague of ours who happened to be principal of Hooper Avenue Elementary School in Toms River: Mallory Kennedy. She rallied around us teachers, turned authors. Using characters, text, and other artwork from our book we created two custom presentations: “Tricks and Treats of Writing” for students (K-2nd) and (3rd grade-5th grade.) Realistic fiction is the basis for the younger grades and for the older students we focused on a greater development in writing as well as illustration and storyboarding. As a teacher myself, I love when a book has an educator guide or a support lessons to incorporate in the reading. Forbes spotlighted our program as a “vehicle for writing.”
Did the actual results align with your expectations? Can you explain?
Real to surreal is how our book introduces characters. Tommy and Suzie (main characters) are planting their yellow, mystical mums. Little Ghosts’ real dedication in writing and character development is how this process began; surreal is now. Surreal in the fact not only did we create our book, we also get the privilege to meet our customers at different venues including: schools, craft fairs, Barnes and Noble Reading Events, and annual events such as the Pajama/Ghost Night at the Planetarium .
We had our first “Ghost Day” at Hooper Avenue Elementary School in Toms River in 2013. Talk about real to surreal. Here I was, along with Kevin, my co-author, about to give a presentation to approximately 200 elementary students and I was nervous. That nervousness diminished when I heard the principal say on the morning announcements that today was “Ghost Day!” Within minutes, students marched into the auditorium wearing mostly white clothing and custom Little Ghost lapel pins. Each student’s pin represented something he/she liked from baseball to books and more. We were wowed by the presence of so many eager students.
What moment let you know that your book had started a movement? Please share a story.
There are many different types of movements that have come from writing Host a Little Ghost and the Story of the Mystical Mums. We have had students share their creative stories and colorful illustrations. We have received amazing feedback via social media. I have also had fellow teachers reach out to me for mentorship. By becoming authors new opportunities arose for us as teachers too. We had the privilege to read our book and do crafts at the Children’s Specialized Hospital. Visiting with special needs children was a fulfilling moment to live our books message of sharing and caring. We continue to do events such as these each and every fall!
Teachers from around the country have used our book in class as well. Examples would include arts and crafts activities, writing activities; and of course for the treat of counting down to Halloween. Fall is prime time for author visits as it is a way to celebrate!
What kinds of things did you hear right away from readers? What are the most frequent things you hear from readers about your book now? Are they the same? Different?
Our youngest readers tell us how much they love Little Ghost. The children love their “glow-to-sleep” Little Ghost. We hear unique names for their ghost friends such as Boo and Ghostley. The young readers like the rhymes in the story as well as the beautiful patterns and colors on each page. Parents/Grandparents like our message of reinforcing caring and sharing among family and friends.
What is the most moving or fulfilling experience you’ve had as a result of writing this book? Can you share a story?
- Author Visits
- Community Book Readings and Philanthropy
- Meeting so many different children including special needs
- Annual Pajama Night at the Novins Planetarium in Ocean County NJ
- Barnes and Noble Retail Partnerships and Readings and book signings
- Sharing this journey with my daughter Stephanie
Have you experienced anything negative? Do you feel there are drawbacks to writing a book that starts such colossal conversation and change?
Education is the most important thing to change our world. And I wish I had more time to do it. As a full time teacher and mom, the only negative experiences I have had with sharing our book and its message, is I do not have enough time. My season is fall and the countdown to trick or treat. So I plan my personal work days around as many possible school visits and presentations. I love being one of the faces of Little Ghost and friends. I love going to the presentations and interacting with the students. When I cannot join Kevin at one of our events, I am sad. The only drawback from writing our book and sharing its strong message of caring and sharing is that my schedule allots me only so much time to attend these events.
Can you articulate why you think books in particular have the power to create movements, revolutions, and true change?
Books have power…from every book you read…you learn something. Books also bring people together. Whether it is a formal book club or friends reading on a beach. Every book begins and ends with purpose.
We become what we choose and we can become greatly influenced by what we read… and that is why I know books have the power to create movements and revolutions. Writers reveal how other people live, struggle, overcome adversity, and experience happiness. We can escape into a good book; we can experience a story; we can empathize with the characters.
Judy Blume’s Tales of a 4th Grade Nothing was really something to me in fourth grade. The characters of Peter Hatcher and his younger brother, Fudge as well as their neighbor, Shiela, (later the lead character in another Blume book, Otherwise known as Sheila the Great) is realistic fiction at its finest. The setting of their hometown, New York City, is a juxtaposition of my home town, Toms River, NJ.
Gus Cazzola was my 4th grade teacher at Hooper Avenue Elementary School. He too wrote a children’s book, To Touch The Deer. I admired that he did it. I never thought to myself, I will do it too. (But I did !) He also encouraged me to write. He even chose me and my classmate Aimee Newsom to “be in charge” of our 4th grade reading show! We named it the “Rainbow Connection”, based on our favorite muppet, Kermit the Frog! Ironically, Hooper Avenue Elementary is where Kevin and I had our first book/writing presentation for Host a Little Ghost and the Story of the Mystical Mums. Quite a few fellow teachers approached me soon after about how we created our story and presentation. And wanted advice on book writing! That was a huge compliment coming from my colleagues and fellow teachers. Books can start a movement even if its not on “purpose!”
What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a bestselling writer? (i.e. perseverance, discipline, play, craft study) Can you share a story or example?
One habit that contributed to becoming a best selling writer was finding inspiration outside of myself. In other words, being a good observer. Since I was writing a book for children, I sought ideas from (at the time) my 5 year old daughter, Stephanie. We drew, jotted, and collaborated.
Nature was another important collaborator. Autumn is the setting of our story. As we know magical events happen in the fall: the whirlwinds of colorful leaves, cool crisp breezes, and mystical mums. Observation is one of the best co-authors.
And having a co-author is really the best co-author. Kevin’s observations too, make the book, our book. The unique duality of our collective experiences is on every page.
What challenge or failure did you learn the most from in your writing career? Can you share the lesson(s) that you learned?
I had to write the book that needed to be written. And yet, I was challenged with some doubt after one of my editors read the first draft. Our book has three distinct writing styles: acrostic poem, prose, and rhyme. I knew our book, the book we had to write, needed these elements. When our story transitions from real to surreal with the introduction of Little Ghost, prose turns to poetry. My editor stated, “it jarred her” as the reader. I felt somewhat of a failure because I so admired her literary opinion. And that is when I realized, that was just what it was, her initial opinion. We then sat down together and analyzed the illustrations and then text as a whole. She came to admire the transition of prose to poetry. The page that includes the mother character encountering Little Ghost for the first time in the pantry is where writing style changes. The illustration implies the flickering of a lightbulb. And then, that’s when my editor’s light bulb went on in her head! She saw the symbology of the light bulb going on in the pantry. That lightbulb moment adds dimension to the story as if the mother character has in someway become enlightened when Little Ghost whispers in philosophical rhyme about the importance of sharing, caring, and love.
Many aspiring authors would love to make an impact similar to what you have done. What are the 5 things writers needs to know if they want to spark a movement with a book? (please include a story or example for each)
- Write about personal experiences. The readers will know that the author is authentic. The reader will connect in someway to his/story.
- Be sincere. Our story is sincere in the fact it came to us as teachers/writers (just us Kevin and I as children reminiscing about Halloween’s past and present). Kevin always says that “trick or treat” is the only time that kids can ring a strangers doorbell and be greeted with a smile and candy. Any other day of the year it might be, “get off my lawn!”
- Write the story that needs to be written. Does it spark a movement? If so, how can you get it moving? We do the moving by going to schools to promote the story, the writing, and the illustration. You need to figure it out as the author and support the movement.
- Be the change that you want the book to bring to the world. We as teachers and parents as well as authors live by the premise of caring and sharing. I firmly believe I am a caring teacher and lead by example daily at work. I am a loving parent. Kevin is a very generous and giving fine human being. He is generous in his actions to his family and friends and philanthropy.
- Be supportive of the movement you make. Don’t get uncomfortable if someone doubts or undermines you. Listen to the positive. They are usually the majority of your readers. The minority unfortunately in someway wishes it was him/her. I had a colleague who tried to belittle my worth as an author as well as publisher (and a mover and a shaker!) My movement is still moving, her book manuscript is collecting dust.
The world, of course, needs progress in many areas. What movement do you hope someone (or you!) starts next? Can you explain why that is so important?
To quote from another children’s book: The Little Engine That Could, “I think I can, I think I can.” has become part of my mantra. Like the small, blue train trying her best to bring toys to the children, I too am hoping to bring joy to children in the form of stories and positive messages that inspire. And I think I can (and I will)…
The working title of our second book, “Host a Holiday Helper and the Story of the Merry Mistletoe” contains the lesson or movement, I’d like to start next. The story continues with the adventures of Little Ghost and twins, Tommy and Suzie. When Little Ghost dons a holiday sweater, Little Ghost transforms into the “Holiday Helper.” The premise of this adventure is to nurture the value of gifting instead of getting. And to reinforce empathy. We need to teach our children empathy, love, communication and social responsibility in preparation for adulthood.
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