ProvidedDebby Coughlan’s “See More Park” children’s book series encourages kids to use their imaginations and appreciate others.
ProvidedMelissa Bailey’s vibrant watercolor illustrations enliven the pages of Debby Coughlan’s “See More Park” children’s book series.
Debby Coughlan Pens Children’s Books, Biographies And Everything In Between
Aspiring authors are often given the advice “show, don’t tell.” Pasadena’s Debby Coughlan took that advice literally in 2011 when she was leading a discussion group of high school students at church and she asked them, “What is something you’ve always wanted to do?”
One typically silent student, Baruch Talbott, said that he wanted to write a book.
“His answer hit me head-on,” said Coughlan, who was working in the building industry as a director of sales and marketing. “I had been saying those same words since I was his age. For some reason, after about 30 years of pushing those thoughts aside, this was the nudge I needed to finally make it happen.”
Coughlan did “make it happen.” In the six years since that epiphany, she has written two biographical works and published two children’s books in her “See More Park” series: “The Most Amazing Swing” and “Flying With Ziggledee.” But before that, she showed Talbott and herself that she was serious about writing.
The week following that church meeting, and over the course of 18 months, Talbott found a mouthpiece for his story and Coughlan found a vocation as she transcribed his thoughts to the page. The result was a book called “In the Middle of the Line.”
“I crafted the authentic story of a charismatic high school student who barely made it to this country at the age of 9, weighing 51 pounds and standing just 51 inches tall,” Coughlan said.
The story included details of Talbott’s upbringing as an orphan in Liberia during the Second Liberian Civil War, which broke out in the late 1990s. Talbott was abandoned by his uncle, he witnessed the deaths of friends and he was held at gunpoint. A bittersweet journey led him to America and an adoptive family.
“Most remarkable is the fact that, despite difficulties and disappointments throughout his life, Baruch’s story is not depressing,” Coughlan said. “In fact, many of his memories are humorous and enlightening, even in the midst of danger … Baruch demonstrates that even the most terrifying experiences can be overcome by determination, faith and hope.”
By the time “In the Middle of the Line” was published, Coughlan decided to leave her career of 25 years, start a writing service called Nouns & Verbs and begin work on her second book, “Jusst Dale,” about Dale Dunning, who, along with her husband, Ken, started the Jusst Sooup ministry, serving hundreds of homeless people from her tiny townhouse kitchen in coastal Delaware.
As she found her niche “helping incredible people tell their inspiring stories,” Coughlan and her husband became grandparents. After working on a children’s story app, she decided to write children’s stories, which resulted in “The Most Amazing Swing” in November 2015, followed by “Flying with Ziggledee” in November 2016.
When conceiving her characters, she consulted Joy Kids Learning Center in Edgewater. The result was realistic, relatable characters and stories that encourage kids to use their imaginations and appreciate others.
Max is a carefree and cautiously curious kid who is sometimes stubborn and naïve. His friend, Ben, is a risk-taking dreamer who loves science, dissects situations and figures things out. Olivia brings a tenacious, determined and sweet personality to “The Most Amazing Swing.”
“Pea Saw is a fun little creature with a big heart and squeaky voice who always speaks in rhymes,” Coughlan added. “When questions come up, kids can count on Pea Saw to nudge them in the right direction. Ziggledee is a giant female dragonfly who is very kind and somewhat shy. Children with special needs will relate to her because although she cannot hear or talk, that doesn’t limit her at all.”
Those characters were brought to life by Melissa Bailey, a Michigan-based illustrator. After brainstorming with Coughlan and discussing how her pictures could work with the words to tell the story, Bailey was excited to let her imagination run wild.
“The style we ended up with is very similar to most of the children's books I illustrate — cute, cartoony drawings colored with a blend of watercolor-pencil or watercolor-colored pencil,” Bailey said. “We tried that with Max, the first character we developed, and it was too ‘soft.’ Debby preferred crisp, black lines so we settled on watercolor and ink. The style lends itself both to the more ‘normal’ real world and the super colorful ‘See More Park.’”
A third “See More Park” story will be out later this year. Find “See More Park” on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter (@See_More_Park); check out Coughlan’s author page on Amazon; or learn more about Nouns & Verbs at www.nounsverbs.com. Her books can also be found at Franklin’s Toys in Severna Park and Annapolis.
“One of my favorite quotes is from Albert Einstein: ‘The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.’ One of the greatest gifts we can give children is the ability to think,” Coughlan said. “Imagination does that. And when we combine imagination with kindness, wonderful things are bound to happen.”