Thursday, October 20, 2011

Book Review: The Cave Monster by Thomas and Peter Weck

The Cave Monster, by Thomas and Peter Weck, is different from most children's picture books in a number of ways. It's physically a first-class book, well made in the USA on heavyweight stock. It should last a very long time, probably hundreds or with a little care, thousands of readings. Cave Monster has more words than the average picture book, it's almost an intermediate reader, but doesn't quite cross that threshold. Another difference is in the back of the book there are two pages of ways to increase the learning potential, including many fun activities. However, I recommend that the first time you read this with your child, you simply read it, allowing them time to take in the brilliant artwork by Len DiSalvo. They'll want to read it again and again, so you can do some of the teaching or activities on other occasions. Now, break out of my usual review style to let co-author Thomas Weck tell you all about the book, and why he and Peter wrote it.

(Thomas) Come on - how can a Cave Monster take this seriously? To save L. Joe Bean from being eaten, his friends "attack" the Cave Monster with the oddest assortment of weapons you could ever imagine: a red flag, a bow and arrow that doesn't work, a canteen of water, a rock smaller than a pebble, and a sword no bigger than a pin. The Cave Monster will just swallow them up along with L. Joe Bean and be done with it. Or will he? These pesky animals might just surprise him - and themselves.

When our 4 children were young I used to tell them bedtime stories that I made up on the spot. One night, I came up with the idea of a clan of beans living in the forest with other forest animals. The two key beans were Lima Bear (good-hearted) and L. Joe Bean (the smartest of all the animals in the forest). The children identified with these beans right away because:

1: They had such good qualities [and it tickled the children pink that a tiny bean could be the smartest in the forest].

2: Children come into a world that is sized for adults, not for them, and this gives them many challenges - similar to what Lima Bear and L. Joe Bean [and all the other beans of Beandom] have to deal with. Children identify immediately to these types of 'sizing' problems.

In addition to making the stories engaging and suspenseful, very funny, I made sure to weave into the fabric of each story an important message such as: stick to your convictions, have tolerance for the differences in others, working collectively you can accomplish things that you could not accomplish on your own - these being the messages in the first three stories in order of their release. In subsequent stories, our messages will be: compassion, forgiveness, courage, look before you leap, perseverance, etc.

When Peter (my co-author) was in his 30's with 3 young daughters of his own, he would tell them bedtime stories. One day he approached me and said: "Dad, the Lima Bear Stories you told us were so good, so funny, and what I learned from them made such an impression on me. We need to share these stories with others. We need to bring them out as books." This was the genesis of Lima Bear Press.

We decided to set up a publishing company ourselves because we wanted to have the final say in all decisions. Years ago, I had a book on executive job-hunting published by one of the top publishing companies in the country. While they listened carefully to all my suggestions on cover, layout, marketing, etc. the final decision was theirs, and I did not always agree with them.

For example, we have an Extend the Learning and an Activities section at the end of each book. The book serves as the "platform" to now let the children verbalize themselves about the story (you can see what we put in those sections). Young children as so open and innocent and speak only the truth as they perceive it (it is often very funny how their minds process information). Their imagination has no boundaries and to let them explore their imaginations verbally in the context of the story transforms the book into a whole new and deeper learning experience. We would have been devastated if a publisher had decided to cut that out.

We found a gifted illustrator then we lined up one of the top national book distributors, Bookmasters/Atlas, and, by attending BEA for a couple of years, I brought onto the team 5 top professionals, all of whom are recognized experts in their respective fields. Barnes and Noble picked up the books on their website right away as did Amazon. We have had some newspaper feature articles on our books with more being scheduled. Great reviews have come in in response to Kate's outreach to let reviewers know that we exist. With a national distributor, our books can be purchased at any bookstore in the country.

We have already had an in-depth interview on a major PBS station and look forward to more television appearances as the word spreads about our mission and our messages and the fact that we put fun into learning. We are excited about how the launch of Lima Bear Press is going.

Peter and I have a passion about our mission: Helping children become lifelong readers, while giving children important life messages woven into the fabric of each story is, for us, an absolute requirement before we will bring a story to the public.

I'm back, thanks for the insight, Thomas. To put it plainly, The Cave Monster is one of the best books you can invest in for your child. It will last, and it teaches many lessons, some might be for when you child is older, so keep it around, and read with them often. After all is said and done that is the best gift for you and your children -- spending quality time with them.

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