COVID experience inspires local talent to create “Spiros the Soup-Eating Dinosaur”
by Wendy Turrell
Author Mary E. Ciesa and Richfield illustrator Kristina Tartara combined their talents for Ciesa’s recently released children’s book, “Spiros the Soup-Eating Dinosaur.” The whimsical book tells the tale of an ailing dinosaur whose earth-shaking coughs and sneezes can only be cured when the local villagers cook him a healing dose of Greek Avgolemono soup.
For the month of May, “Spiros the Soup-Eating Dinosaur” will be featured on the Carter Pedigo Trail, adjacent to the Richfield Branch Library, as part of a StoryWalk. Children and adults will be able to read the picture book at 16 kiosks along the 1.3-mile trail.
In addition, Ciesa and Tartara will join families at 10:30 a.m. on May 21 for a brief talk, and then accompany walkers on the trail as the book is read and displayed at the stations. The library will offer a children’s art project after the walk.
Richfield Early Childhood Librarian Diane Nagy said, “The story is a wonderful story about community and teamwork. The illustrations in the story are delightful.” She also likes the local connection. “I love that I can showcase local talent,” she added.
Nagy said the StoryWalk® Project is a trademarked program that is provided to the library for free. It was created by Ann Ferguson of Montpelier, Vermont, and developed in collaboration with the Vermont Bicycle & Pedestrian Coalition and the Kellogg Hubbard Library.
“Spiros the Soup-Eating Dinosaur” is Ciesa’s second book. Her first, “Dina Prima the Ballerina,” was made into a ballet and performed by the Wayne Center Ballet Company in 2015. Ciesa drew on her Greek heritage and personal experiences with COVID-19 as her inspiration for “Spiros the Soup-Eating Dinosaur.”
As a child, her parents made Avgolemono for her and her sisters when they were ill, and the family recipe was carefully taught to them. Spiros was the name of her beloved grandfather, who loved Avgolemono soup. Ciesa lost both her mother and a family friend to COVID-19 in the past year, and dedicated the story to them.
Ciesa also has a professional connection with the pandemic, as a nurse practitioner at Comprehensive Internal Medicine in Wooster, where she and her staff saw over 3,000 patients last year, many presenting with initial stages of COVID-19.
“While most people were home and off the roads, I was driving to Wooster and, along with my ‘super-hero’ nurses who came to work every day, was always trying to help those that were sick and in need of care,” Ciesa said.
Ciesa was a long-time resident of Bath, before moving to Copley two years ago. She holds dual masters degrees as an adult primary care nurse practitioner and a maternal-child clinical nurse specialist. When she was a student at Kent State University, she also completed a semester of work in the English department to study writing for children. Ciesa said she writes every day, usually very early in the morning before leaving for her job.
Kristina Tartara is currently illustrating her tenth book. Ciesa explained the two women are both members of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and they met at a conference of the Northern Ohio Chapter. “We share similar Greek backgrounds. …. I called her one day, sent her the manuscript, she liked it, and felt she could illustrate it.”
It was in the midst of the pandemic, so Ciesa and Tartara collaborated via Zoom and phone calls. “It was magical to see it come alive on paper,” Ciesa enthused. She added that the Avgolemono soup recipe is included in the book and will be featured along the StoryWalk trail.
Nagy said that the StoryWalk program continued throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, but the Enchanted Storyland Forest project that she and fellow co-worker Christina Turner created, had to be suspended. Enchanted Storyland will return in August. Nagy said it is a one-day event, also along the Carter Pedigo Trail, which stages 14 fairy tales and nursery rhymes presented on storyboards and with costumed characters. Participants see the first part of the tale or rhyme, then move down the trail to find the next part. They track their progress on a special map and, upon completing the trail, discover the secret word and final object.
Nagy said the library has recently received a generous early literacy grant from a local family, who wishes to remain anonymous. Nagy explained, “With some of the funds from this grant, I put together kits that are packed full of activities, along with the tools for the activities, that are designed to help enhance early learning … in language, reading, math, and science.” Other areas targeted are fine and gross motor development. The kits are for toddlers and preschoolers.
She added, “COVID has been hard on everyone, but for our little ones it has had devastating effects on their development.” With the remaining funds, Nagy plans to purchase books for giveaways at local community events.
“Spiros the Soup-Eating Dinosaur” can be checked out at the Akron Summit County Library and its branches, and is available from Amazon, Barnes and Nobel, and Ingram Sparks. More information about StoryWalk, Enchanted Storyland Forest, and all library events are available at akronlibrary.org. The book will also be featured in December on the Bath Community Park’s StoryWalk trail. ∞