Author Diane Madden and her turtle Neeps inspire young readers at the Jay-Niles Memorial Library

Author Diane Madden and her turtle Neeps inspire young readers at the Jay-Niles Memorial Library

Author Diane Madden and her turtle Neeps visit the Jay-Niles Memorial Library in Jay as part of the summer reading program on Monday, July 1. Rebecca Richard/Franklin Journal

Jay – The Jay–Niles Memorial Library continued its annual summer reading program with events for children, teens and adults, each held on separate days. The children’s event on July 1 featured a visit from children’s author Diane Madden, who brought her new book to life.

Madden captivated an entire audience of young readers with a reading of her latest book, The Story of Neeps and Tattie, accompanied by her tortoise Neeps. Inspired by a trip to Scotland in 2019 with her friend and co-author Amy Johnson, the book describes her experiences and the adventures of the two tortoises.

While waiting for the ferry to Loch Ness, Madden and Johnson met a local gardener who told them about her two 52-year-old tortoises hibernating in her refrigerator. Intrigued by this story, they began to read up on tortoises and decided to write a story for children. In the backseat of their rental car, they began drafting the first travel brochures.

Madden said Scotland’s rich culture and history were a major influence on the book. “The landscapes and the people we met there brought the story to life,” she said. “Visiting Scotland was a dream come true for me and I wanted to capture that magic in the book.”

During the event, Madden not only read from her book, but also introduced everyone to Neeps. “Neeps loves to get out there and interact with the audience,” Madden exclaimed. Neeps, her four-year-old turtle, was a main attraction, delighting the young audience with his presence.

Madden shared more about the creative process behind her book and highlighted the impact of her work with the Raising Readers program. “During my time with Raising Readers, I learned about the elements that make a children’s book impactful at different stages of development,” she explained. “It was critical that our book be oversized, with engaging illustrations, minimal text, and a font that is easy for young readers to understand. If a parent can’t read or speak our language, they can tell their child a story using the photos.”

Madden said they found an illustrator, Abigail Swartz of Maine, to illustrate the book. Madden asked Swartz to include pictures of Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster, throughout the book for children to find.

As part of the Jay-Niles Memorial Library’s summer reading program, author Diane Madden reads her book “The Story of Neeps and Tattie” in Jay. Rebecca Richard/Franklin Journal

Madden, a new grandmother, says she loves sharing her book with her granddaughters Leah and Sophie. “Seeing the looks on their faces during the story is priceless,” she says. “The refrigerator scene is always the highlight. Even two-and-a-half-year-old Leah knows that turtles in the refrigerator are not an everyday occurrence.”

Madden spoke about her long-standing friendship with Johnson and their process together. “Amy and I have been close friends for years,” she noted. “She’s a former teacher and has amazing organizational skills. Our shared work experiences allow us to work well as a team, and she’s always my voice of reason when we have to make decisions about our book.”

The authors wanted their book to be a keepsake, so they opted for an oversized hardcover with a dust jacket. Madden added, “Our book is purchased by many grandparents and as a baby shower gift,” she noted. “Amy lives in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, and does book signings, school visits, and library visits with her turtle, Tattie, just as I do with Neeps here in Maine. Each year we donate a portion of the proceeds from our book sales to turtle rescue organizations.”

Looking ahead, Madden and her co-author have lots of ideas for future adventures of Neeps and Tattie. “We’re focused on getting our book into the hands of as many children as possible through bookstores, schools and libraries,” she said.

Author Diane Madden has a full house when she reads her book “The Story of Neeps and Tattie” at the Jay-Niles Memorial Library in Jay on Monday, July 1. Rebecca Richard/Franklin Journal

Madden said a major milestone for her was the recognition her book received from Kirkus Reviews. “An epic moment for us was recently when we received a featured review from Kirkus Reviews and were featured in their January 2024 issue,” she said. “Kirkus featured us again in February 2024, naming ‘The Story of Neeps and Tattie’ ‘Best Indie Book for Kids.’ For more than 87 years, Kirkus has been one of the most trusted and authoritative voices in book discovery.”

The event ended with a painting session. Madden was available to answer questions and sign books, giving all participants an unforgettable experience. The children crowded around Madden during the reading and of course to get a better look at Neeps.

Madden’s visit to the Jay-Niles Memorial Library is part of her ongoing efforts to connect with communities and promote literacy. “I really enjoy visiting local libraries and talking to children and their families. It’s wonderful to see how excited children are about reading and learning.”

“Keeping a turtle as a pet is a commitment because they live so long,” she said.

Children’s book author Diane Madden set up a table with her book “The Story of Neeps and Tattie” on display at the Jay-Niles Memorial Library in Jay on Monday, July 1. Rebecca Richard/Franklin Journal

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