By George, we won!
My coauthor, Joe Bonadonna, had an idea for a spooky Halloween story for children. He never wrote children's books before, so he asked me if I would be interested in coauthoring and illustrating the book. When I read his story outline, his base ideas for scenes, action, and some of the basic characters, I started playing with the idea. Although I was a bit nervous that it would be a challenge to bring our ides together smoothly, but knowing Joe's personality and knowing that neither of us are hard headed and we are both open to ideas and willing to discuss and compromise, I agreed to coauthor the book.
Let me tell you, although we're both adults, we turned into children as soon as we started exchanging ideas about the story. Hundreds of emails and messages were flying between us about names, places, character development, and the progression of the plot.
We both had so much fun and Joe was so easy to work with. He didn't object to any of my ideas to liven the characters, to add fun bickering between them, and to work out details about their adventures. It was exciting and challenging to illustrate the story with spooky, but not scary pictures that are suitable for even as young as five-six year old children.
We had so much writing together that we already started working on book 2 of the Creepy Hollow Adventures series.
The happiest moment for both of us came yesterday, when we found out that our story won the Judges' Award in the Golden Book Award Contest.
About the book and quotes from editorial reviews
Golden Book Award Winner, spooky and funny, a heroic fantasy adventure for middle-grade children. Nikki and her impish cousin, Jack, find a mysterious black pumpkin in the forest on Halloween. A wise talking skeleton, Wishbone, tells them that the ghosts of the Trinity of Wishmothers are trapped inside the pumpkin and can’t be freed without their wands. The children offer their help, so the skeleton takes them on a journey to the world of Creepy Hollow to retrieve the three wands he hid long ago in Red Crow Forest, the Tower of Shadows, and the Cave of Spooks. Ghoulina, the beautiful vegetarian ghoul, and Catman, who was once a man, join them on their quest. They must face danger and conquer evil every step of the way as they search for the Wands before the wicked Hobgoblin and his henchman, a Tasmanian Devil, can get their hands on them. This is a fun, humorous and touching story for kids, with plenty of character interaction woven into a backdrop of scary danger, heroic action and lessons to be learned.
"Szabo and Bonadonna’s story crackles with action and excitement. Their storytelling moves with the speed of lightning, but never lets the reader get lost. The atmosphere is just spooky enough to be fun but never enough to be too scary. Nikki and Jack are terrific characters. Their humorous bickering and genuine affection for each other make them very relatable. Wishbone Jones and Catman are good-natured foils for the snarky, sometimes cranky Ghoulina. Together, the band of heroes’ quick wits and courage in the face of deadly crows, evil Shadows, and wicked Spooks, will thrill anyone who picks it up. The megalomaniacal Hobart T. Hobgoblin is a great villain, who chews up the scenery every time he shows up. Though we never feel sorry for him, we learn enough about his past to understand him. There are also some valuable lessons to be learned along the way. Nikki and Jack must figure out for themselves that while selfishness and greed can lead to a bad end, courage and self-sacrifice can help defeat evil. Szabo and Bonadonna weave this into the story with great skill."~Fletcher Vredenburg
"This is book one in a series and I am already wondering what ghoulish adventures await this heroic team. As a teacher, I look for books that teach a good lesson and this one will not disappoint. I recommend this book for home or school libraries for children from ages 6 to 12. I gave it 5 Howling Halloween stars!" ~Children's author and teacher Janet Balletta
"Not only does this tale—perfect for ages six to young teens--entertain, it teaches important lessons on how to work with others to accomplish goals, how to face fear, the importance of safety, and how to make difficult decisions. A cast of endearing (and some not so sweet) characters, non-stop action and plenty of twists and turns engages and delights." ~Author Sandra Novelly
"I had such fun reading this, it’s a while since I’ve read a book written for children, and I was pleasantly surprised at the depth of sophistication there is, while still maintaining a tale suitable for the younger reader. The characters leapt off the page, acted naturally and, this is important for me as a reader, I felt for them, cared for them. There were distinct differences between the different stars in the book, both the real children and the mythical ones, well described and the writing flowed from page to page. I must also mention the illustrations, also delightful, although there were fewer towards the end of the book and I would have loved more of them. A great book to buy for your children or grandchildren." ~Author Lucinda E. Clarke
"There is magic in this story! Three Ghosts in a Black Pumpkin is a book that will satisfy the hungry reader. It will not be disappointing. This story is intriguing and adventurous. It is engaging, well written and easy to read. You can sense the emotions, courage and fears. It teaches children and young teens a lesson in responsibility." ~Author Mary Ann Vitale
Pico won the Readers' Choice Award
I'm very proud of my bilingual children's book, and I'm very happy that it won the Readers' Award.
In the story, Sarah, Emma's mom, promised to bird-sit Pico for two weeks but soon regrets her decision because the noisy parrot keeps screeching and squawking all day, annoying her family and the neighbors. When Pico makes a mess of Emma's room, Emma gets very angry, but her friends help her. Charlotte notices that Pico seems sad, and Pedro finds out why Pico is shrieking so loudly all the time. The parrot is frustrated because nobody pays attention to him, and nobody understands what he wants.
The purpose of this English and Spanish bilingual book is to show children the beauty of another language and that learning a new language doesn’t have to be boring, it could be fun. The story also delivers a message that when we don’t take the time to listen to each other, we tend to judge others quickly before we get to know them.
"As a former ESL teacher, I was impressed by author Erika’s bilingual story about a pesky parrot and wondered why books like this one (written in both English and Spanish at many reading levels and interest ranges) were not available when I was teaching." ~Bette A. Stevens
"Pico the Pesky Parrot is an adorable story that teaches a strong message of compassion, community, and communication." ~Janet Balletta
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