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New book invites kids to spend ‘A Week with Waffles’

Any number of animals have creatively aided children’s development over the years: a hat-wearing cat, a honey-loving bear, a curious monkey, a big red dog and an even larger yellow bird, among them.

Make room in that menagerie for Waffles, a lovable guinea pig debuting in a book for children – and whose enchanting story will also benefit students at Pennsylvania College of Technology.

“A Week with Waffles,” endearingly written by Waffles’ real-life housemate Tom Speicher and vividly illustrated by Marina Saumell, was recently published and is available through Amazon in paperback ($7.99) and Kindle ($3.99) editions. It can also be purchased at The Otto Bookstore, 107 W. Fourth St., Williamsport.

"A Week with Waffles"Speicher last year co-wrote and published a football-themed book, “Bucky Deacon’s Dilemma,” for a middle school audience, and wanted to try something different the second time ’round.

“I thought it would be fun to do something geared to preschoolers and elementary students,” he explained. “And I knew this would be an excellent way for kids to learn the days of the week, as well as to explore their own lives and activities – and what they have in common with Waffles.”

Some readers may relate to the fact that Waffles is an only child, for example, and the day-by-day structure allows for positive lessons ranging from nutrition to exercise to thoughtfulness.

Befitting Speicher’s experience as a storyteller – he is an award-winning writer/video producer at Penn College – it took only a few hours for him to sketch out what should be depicted on each page. And when it came time to finesse that narrative into a fully realized children’s book, he knew exactly where to turn.

“I was inspired by Megan Rogers’ book,” he said, referring to a co-worker’s publication of “Meet Mason” about her son with special needs that Saumell illustrated. “I was so taken with the illustrations that I sent Marina the rough draft of ‘Waffles’ to see if she’d be interested.”

Speicher also sent along photos of Waffles, a 7-year-old Abyssinian guinea pig who “loves to sleep and eat” and has a particular fondness for grapes and her accommodations (a plastic purple igloo).

The real Waffles, a celebrity-in-waitingTom SpeicherHe didn’t have to wait long for an answer, as Saumell found Waffles adorable and knew that youngsters would, too.

“I loved the idea of illustrating a book about the days of the week. Tom wrote the story in a way that involves the kids, asking them about their routines, which I think is brilliant,” she said. “Children will have the opportunity to write their own activities in the weekly schedule at the end of the book. I love the idea of giving the readers the chance to interact with the book in a different way.”

Speicher – who dedicates the book to his daughter, Katie, and to his late nephew, Tim Baltz – included a number of other personal touches. Local readers will notice references to Penn College, the Williamsport Crosscutters and TLC Fitness personal training gym; the author’s favorite Minnesota Vikings are represented in a banner on the wall and a T-shirt; and a copy of “Bucky Deacon’s Dilemma” graces Waffles’ bookshelf.

There’s also a playdate with a variety of other critters, all actual pets of people known to Speicher – an illustration that is among Saumell’s favorites, if not the trickiest to portray.

“It was a really challenging scene, since the characters were animals of different sizes and a fish in a bowl, and they were supposed to be playing together,” she said. “I found it helpful to show the smaller characters in the front and the bigger ones in the back so we can see them properly. I thought this was a good way to show them playing tag.”

Saumell creates her initial drafts and sketches by hand, then works on a drawing tablet to complete the final renderings and to digitally paint them. An accomplished artist with more than 30 books to her credit, she is proud to add “A Week with Waffles” to her resume.

“I’m happy with the final illustrations of the book, but I’m open to the feedback from kids and their parents,” she said. “It’s really important for me, as this is the way I can improve and create better artwork.”

Speicher, too, is pleased, noting the welcome “little touches” that Saumell added to flesh out Waffles’ personality, such as her clothing when dining with a neighbor or the glasses she wears when sorting mail toward the end of the week. They all come together to engage readers, who are sure to embrace Waffles’ recognizable world.

“I hope it makes people smile, young and older,” he said.

As with “Bucky Deacon’s Dilemma,” proofreading assistance was provided by Jennifer A. Cline, editor of Penn College Magazine. And, as was the case with that earlier book, a portion of the proceeds from Waffles’ adventures will go toward the college’s Emergency Scholarship Fund.

“Tom’s book fosters the imaginations of young minds, while directly supporting collegiate scholars with unforeseen financial circumstances as they pursue an education,” said Loni N. Kline, vice president for college relations/chief philanthropy officer. “He’s making a great difference through his words. I would call that a genuine, philanthropic version of a literary genius.”

“A Week with Waffles” may not be the end of the adventures, either: Should a publisher be interested in a multivolume series, Speicher said the ever-versatile guinea pig could share tales from the beach or the gym, among many other possibilities.

For more about Penn College, a national leader in applied technology education, email the Admissions Office or call toll-free 800-367-9222.

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