Making learning fun

Teachers double as authors, celebrate success of second children’s book

Within 20 pages of crayon-colored illustrations and clever learning rhymes, children follow two roaches, Ralph and Roxanne, as they count their way around New Orleans in “Counting Around the Neutral Ground.” The book, which is authored by Joanne Mehrtens and Pat Roig, is the second in a series of children’s books that focus on unique ways to get kids interested in reading.

“Our ultimate goal with writing these books is to inspire a love of reading,” said Mehrtens. “We want to help children and parents love reading and laughing together. If our books can bring kids and their parents together for just 10 minutes a day, then we have been successful.”

Being early childhood teachers and friends, family time is important to the authors and is what ultimately helped motivate the pair to begin the book series.

“Motivation comes from our close friendship and working together for so many years,” added Mehrtens. “The two of us help each other stay focused and when we see the excitement of other people about our books, it gets us excited all over again. Plus, we feel that Ralph and Roxanne have more stories to tell.”

Before “Counting Around the Neutral Ground,” there was Mehrtens’ and Roig’s first book, “The Beignet That Almost Got Away” – inspired by a dream that Roig’s son had.

“My son called me and told me that he a dream that I wrote a book with 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.”

For the pair, “Counting Around the Neutral Ground,” has always been the works as a second book.

“Being pre-kindergarten teachers motivates us to look for new ways to teach basic concepts,” said Mehrtens. “We like our books to entertain and teach at the same time. It’s what we do in our classrooms.”

In addition to co-authoring both books, Mehrtens is also responsible for Ralph and Roxanne’s colorfully-sketched scenery.

“The sketches are done in crayon and colored pencil,” said Mehrtens. “Because I teach young children, it’s those items that I happen to have available, plus, I can blend and shadow better with these softer mediums. I’m kind of like the ‘Cake Boss’ on TLC – I see a picture in my head and I have to draw it.”

Enthusiastic, a little surprised and delighted about at book that takes place in New Orleans is how Mehrtens describes the response their books have pulled from children and parents.

“I think they find the concept quite different, clever and funny,” Mehrtens said.

“Counting Around the Neutral Ground” is the second round for Mehrtens and Roig, who both claim to have learned a lot from their first publication.

“We learned that their is an interest and a need for great children’s literature based in our colorful, interesting, unique area – and that we can do for ourselves,” said Mehrtens.

With a total of 7,000 copies of “The Beignet That Almost Got Away,” sold, Mehrtens and Roig have high hopes for their second book and are already planning a third for the series.

“We are currently working on a Mardi Gras book and eventually Ralph and Roxanne will be traveling nationwide,” said Mehrtens. “The books will also feature some new characters and members of the roach family.

“It’s kind of like Mickey Mouse and Walt Disney, we’ll have new characters, but we want to always stay true to our original characters.”

Currently, both “Counting Around the Neutral Ground” and “The Beignet That Almost Got Away” are available in Metairie at Boundless, Le Jouet and Paradise Cafe’. The books can also be purchased at the Little Toy Shop in the French Quarter or directly from Mehrtens and Roig.

Mehrtens and Roig are two early childhood educators with 53 years teaching experience between them. They are currently teaching at St. Catherine of Siena school in Metairie. These children’s books were written and illustrated by Roig and Mehrtens to teach their own classes about their beloved city of New Orleans.

Both authors decided to publish their books, which include a detailed glossary explaining the history of each place Ralph and Roxanne visit, for all children to enjoy.

“We are passing on the love and the feeling of being a true New Orleanian through the eyes of two loveable cockroaches,” said Mehrtens.gnets, streetcars and roaches – what can be more New Orleans that that!”


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