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Monster, He Wrote

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Ed Shankman (l), Dave O'Neill (r) and friends.

When you learn that Ed Shankman has written children’s books entitled “The Boston Balloonies”, “The Cods of Cape Cod” and “I Met a Moose in Maine One Day”, you might think he lives in New England. Even more so when you hear that his latest book is about Champy, the legendary monster of Lake Champlain.

But the lake closest to Shankman’s heart–and home–is Verona Park Lake. There just hasn’t been a call for a children’s story about that. At least not yet.

Ed Shankman has had a Verona address for the last nine years, For almost the same amount of time, he has worked with Montclair-based illustrator Dave O’Neill, first at a Montclair ad agency and then to create a series of well-received rhyming books for children. “I Met a Moose in Maine One Day” is now in its eighth printing and is the best-selling book in L.L.Bean‘s stores. The pair are about to leave for a whirlwind book promotion tour for “Champ and Me by the Maple Tree”, their latest, that will take them to the flagship Ben & Jerry’s store and the Echo Lake Aquarium located, quite fittingly, on Lake Champlain in Burlington, Vt. Over the Fourth of July weekend, they were back at L.L.Bean’s Freeport, Me. superstore, where visitors to their book signings are prone to reciting the opening lines of “Moose” as they stroll by:

I met a moose
In Maine one day
Just how it happened
I can’t say.

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Ed Shankman is the kind of guy who relishes the opportunity to play off words like Kalamazoo (“You can rhyme a million things with ‘oo’,” he says) and he holds a very respectable day job as the creative director in an ad agency devoted to the pharmaceutical industry. But he admits to being an unruly kid who, when a teacher told him to buckle down to be successful, was arrogant enough to retort: “I don’t have to worry about it because I’m going to write children’s books.” And, channeling his icon, Dr. Seuss, he wrote his very first one that evening.

Of course, plenty of people say they are going to write a children’s book, and quite a few actually do, which makes it the most crowded category in book publishing. According to Bowker, more than 32,000 juvenile books were expected to be published last year. The juvenile label includes both picture books like the ones Shankman and O’Neill create, as well as so-called chapter books. But when you compare the juvenile category to cookery, which was pegged to publish just over 2,600 books, you can begin to get a sense of the mountain that Shankman and O’Neill have to climb as they head up to the Green and White mountain ranges of New England.

And while novelists might be able to get their books translated into other languages and sold worldwide, rhyming books are not usually as lucky. Shankman says his wife, who speaks fluent Hebrew, tried to adapt “Moose” in that language, but it just didn’t work. Shankman and O’Neill have gotten a boost from the fact that the publisher of “Moose”, Commonwealth Editions, is interested in books tied to places. But they are now seeking a publisher for a children’s book that is not location-specific, and they hope that their success with their New England books will seal the deal.

That, and their marketing skills. As befits two ad agency veterans, Shankman and O’Neill take advantage of every marketing tool now on the Internet: They have a Web site, a Facebook page, a Twitter feed and a place for videos on YouTube. Which allows us to bring you a reading from “Champ and Me” right here:

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Virginia Citrano
Virginia Citranohttps://myveronanj.com
Virginia Citrano grew up in Verona. She moved away to write and edit for The Wall Street Journal’s European edition, Institutional Investor, Crain’s New York Business and Forbes.com. Since returning to Verona, she has volunteered for school, civic and religious groups, served nine years on the Verona Environmental Commission and is now part of Sustainable Verona. She co-founded MyVeronaNJ in 2009. You can reach Virginia at [email protected]

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