Local author uses personal experience to create children’s book

by Wendy Turrell

Local author Mary E. Ciesa and Richfield illustrator Kristina Tartara collaborated to create the recently released children’s book “Spiros the Soup-Eating Dinosaur,” which will be featured along the Bath Community Park StoryWalk® Trail during the month of December. The whimsical book tells the tale of an ailing dinosaur whose earth-shaking coughs and sneezes can only be cured when local villagers cook him a healing dose of Greek Avgolemono soup.

“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 soup for her and her sisters when they were ill, and they all learned the family recipe. Spiros was the name of Ciesa’s beloved grandfather, who loved the 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 children’s writing. Ciesa said she writes every day, usually early in the morning before leaving for her nursing practice.

Kristina Tartara is currently illustrating her tenth book. Ciesa explained the two women are 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,” said Ciesa.

Writing in the midst of the pandemic, Ciesa and Tartara collaborated via Zoom and phone calls. “It was magical to see it come alive on paper,” Ciesa recalled. The Avgolemono soup recipe is included in the book.

Early Childhood Librarian Jessica Ellis, of the Fairlawn-Bath Branch Library, said starting on Dec. 5, the library will have a “Take-It Make-It” craft of a paper bag dinosaur puppet and the paper hat that Spiros the dinosaur wears in the book. The crafts are only available at the Fairlawn-Bath Branch for kids to take home, for as long as supplies last.

Ellis said the Fairlawn-Bath Branch had done the StoryWalk® for about ten years at temporary locations, until moving to the Bath Community Park, 1615 N. Cleveland Massillon Rd., in May 2019. A different children’s book with mounted pages is displayed along the trail each month, except for January and February.

The StoryWalk® Project was created by Ann Ferguson of Montpelier, Vermont, and developed in collaboration with the Kellogg-Hubbard Library. StoryWalk® is a registered service mark owned by Ferguson.

“This has been a wonderful collaboration with the Bath Parks,” said Ellis. “We believe the trail is very well attended every month based on positive feedback.”

Ellis also said the library likes to coordinate an event every October with Bath’s “Fall Into Nature” event at the Bath Nature Preserve. “It ties in with the library because we are part of the community, and we are there to represent our organization while supporting this event,” she said.

“Spiros the Soup-Eating Dinosaur” can be checked out at the Akron Summit County Library and its branches. Ciesa said it is also available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Ingram Sparks. More information about StoryWalk® and all library events is available at akronlibrary.org. ∞

Featured Photo: Author Mary Ciesa drew on inspiration from her personal experiences with family to write the book. Photo submitted.