A new children’s book with a lesson

Photo courtesy of Carolyn Dodds

“Tessa’s Tall Tales” – a children’s book by East County residents Carolyn Joyce Dodds (left) and illustrated by June Gomez (right) recently hit bookstore shelves.

A trio of creative East County women combined their talents and expertise to bring to life the story of an imaginative wolf cub named Tessa, who learns the difference between tall tales and the truth.

“Tessa’s Tall Tales” – a children’s book by Carolyn Joyce Dodds, illustrated by June Gomez and published by Carol A. Jensen of Byron Hot Springs – recently hit the bookshelves. But the story was actually written a couple of decades ago and was based on her own childhood as a teller of tall tales. Dodds said.

“It was inspired by the fact that all children are storytellers,” Dodds said. “They’re habitual and natural exaggerators. It’s based on the fact that I was a storyteller as a kid. My mom and dad gave me a really safe place to be creative without squelching that creativity, but really teaching me how important it is to not mislead people. It’s OK to have a creative mindset and express yourself through storytelling, but you have to disclaim that this is not true.”

Dodds, a Brentwood resident since 1996, has a background in special education, and she teaches at Garin Elementary School in Brentwood. She has always written for her own enjoyment, and in 2002 her writing caught the attention of Rick Lemyre, co-founder and former managing editor of the Brentwood Press. That encounter led to a recurring humor and satire column that Dodds wrote for the newspaper for six years, and that experience garnered her a National Newspaper Association award for best humor column.

For more than 20 years, Dodds and Gomez discussed collaborating on a book. The pair met while they both had children in kindergarten. Along with several other mothers, a tight-knit group of friends developed, and they called themselves the Wolf Pack. While Tessa was originally envisioned by Dodds as a mouse, she was transformed early in the process.

“Our friendship has remained close throughout all these years,” Dodd said of Gomez. “When we decided to collaborate on this book, we said, ‘Hey, let’s pay homage to our wolf pack and have Tessa be a wolf cub. That’s an inside tribute to a friendship that has lasted for decades. To do this adventure with a valued and trusted friend has been an amazing experience.”

Once the decision was made to illustrate Tessa as a wolf cub, the real work started for Gomez. Working entirely on paper, the development of the book’s visual aspects took the better part of a year.

“(Tessa) went through a lot of development,” Gomez explained. “It really takes a lot of sketching and really playing her in different situations, and trying to get a face that looks like an emotion but still keeps her looking like the same wolf in every picture. We had a lot of meetings in pencil before I went to ink. We had a series of meetings to check the development of the characters and the story. It took quite a long time to get Tessa to feel like a little personality. We went through a lot of paper. It takes some time.”

Another book that Gomez illustrated, “What if Strawberries Had No Hats” by Cassaundra Brown, was published by Jensen. Gomez brought Dodds’ project to Jensen, who said she had no interest in publishing “another cute children’s story,” but saw its value beyond that.

“This is really a child development tool,” Jensen said. “In fact, a good curriculum could be written for the classroom for this book to be the text. I am urging Carolyn to write that curriculum.”

With Tessa’s story now for sale, the team is considering their next move.

“We have pages of book ideas,” Dodds said. “Tessa absolutely can be launched into a series. There’s nothing that can’t be covered in terms of moral lessons or ethical lessons. We’ve also talked about other story ideas. I have a vault of manuscripts that we’re looking at and deciding what’s going to be next. We’re just at the very beginning of a fun, adventurous road together.”

“Tessa’s Tall Tales” can be purchased at Amazon.com and at Barnes and Noble.

For more information visit, www.tessastalltales.com.