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Local writers enjoy success with children's book

Shonna Riggs -   Oct 25, 2007

Two teachers, educators with 50 years combined experience enriching the minds of children never anticipated that a book they wrote about roaches, and a familiar New Orleans donut treat called “The Beignet That Almost Got Away,” would line the shelves of local bookstores, and be used as a teaching tool in some pre-kindergarten and kindergarten classrooms.

“We invite our young readers to come see the French Quarter,  as you have never seen it before through the eyes of two lovable cockroaches, Ralph and Roxanne,” Pat Roig, one of the authors said.

The book is available at Old Town Praline and Gift Shop, Cafe du Monde gift shop, A Tisket a Tasket Bookstore, Border’s Book store on Veterans Highway, and Rose Lynn’s Hallmark. 

Roig was taking a literary writing class at the University of New Orleans, when her instructor told the class to write a children's story as an assignment. Joanne Mehrtens, her friend and co-worker read the story and suggested that together they would turn the story into a children’s book.

“The book started out as a story I had to write for a homework assignment in class,” Roig said. “I brought it to work and Joanne read it and fell in love with it, and said let’s write a book.”

Roig’s son, Greg,  who lives in Texas called her prior to the book’s beginning about a dream he had that prompted the title and setting of the book and unfolded the story into vivid pictures and characters.

“My son called me and said ‘mom I had a dream that you wrote this book with Ms. Joanne called “The Beignet that got away," Roig said.  “My son googled it online and realized there was no such title so it wasn’t something he had heard before and just mimicked, it was an original idea, so we went with it,” she said.

Mehrtens says completing the book was a three year process.
 “We worked on it at lunch recess, between classes, at home whenever we got a chance to,” she said. “It wasn’t a fast process, but one thing I’ve learned is you have to believe in what you’re writing and be enthusiastic about it to be able to market the book correctly.”

The co-authors decided to self-publish the book after receiving their first and last rejection letter.

“Once we completed the book we turned it over to Pelican Press to see it they would publish it,” Roig said.  “We got a rejection letter stating that they weren't accepting any new books at that time.”

Roig and Mehrtens turned to their husbands for help.

“Bruce is a CPA (certified public accountant), he shopped around for a self publishing company for us so that we could get the book published,” Mehrtens said. “My husband is a banker so he made sure we were on the right track for the cost of the book,” Roig said.

The writing duo says they still haven’t recouped their cost yet, and with two more book ideas waiting in the wings, they caution potential writers who plan to self-publish to make sure they recoup what they spent before moving forward.

“We spent a total of $7,000 to get our book published, we’re already in our second printing but we haven’t recouped our investment yet,” Mehtrens said.

Both Roig and Mehrtens said they dress the part like roaches when reading the book at various children’s functions to keep the storytime lively and fun.

“We have some other ideas for children’s books, next time we’ll probably use numbers, to tell the story and include along with more historical type of material incorporated for the children.”

Roig and Mehtrens are pleasantly surprised by the reaction they get from the kids.

“Imagine you’re walking down the French Quarter in New Orleans and see two women wearing roaches on their heads with roaches on necklaces around their neck,” Roig said.  “It definitely gets attention and people notice and ask and are interested.”

Mehrtens who illustrated the book loves the impact it has on the audience.

“We use interactive roach puppets to help tell the story come to life, we include lots of props, it’s almost like a vaudeville act,”she said.  “The kids really love it.”

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