Author Zachary Tamer is offering an unusual incentive for children to read his book: Come up with a great idea, and you could be the hero of the sequel. “I figured it’s for kids. So it’s kind of cool to get kids to be major components in it,” said Tamer, 30, a lifelong Manassas resident.
“It’s less about sales and more about wanting kids to get involved in reading and continue reading.”
“The Story of the Snugglefink,” illustrated by Cassie Kelly, was published by the small Wisconsin company Mirror Publishing six months ago. The colorful rhyming tale, derived from a poem Tamer composed years ago in a college creative writing class, is available at a handful of zoos nationwide and at some stores in the Manassas area, as well as online. It has sold 365 copies to date.
In a story strongly reminiscent of Dr. Seuss’s “The Lorax,” Tamer’s blue-and-pink-striped Snugglefink tries and fails to stop the machines that threaten his happy forest. The tale ends grimly, with a drawing of the men who destroyed the forest wheezing under a smoke-clogged sky, with X’s over their eyes.
The book’s final words are: “Many years later the plaid bearded men/ Were coughing and hacking up flemityflem/ The skies were dark and poured black rain/ Now the humans could feel the Snugglefink’s pain.”
On the next page, “The End.” But on the page after that, it turns out the book is not quite over.
“Could you be the one who figures out a way/ That we could all live in the forest and play?/ So never forget, and remember to think/ That one day you could save the Snugglefink!”
On his Web site, Tamer invites kids to send in their ideas for protecting forests. The person with the best suggestion will see his or her name in the next book — and perhaps his or her forest-saving idea as well.
Thus far, submissions in the contest, which runs until Oct. 1, have reminded Tamer what wonderful imaginations his readers have, he said. He described one child’s entry: “Hey, just put up a big fence. Nobody can come in, and nobody can come out. And then the forest will be fine.” And another: “You can plant magical seeds that would grow faster.”
At the readings he has given at elementary schools, children’s museums and coffee shops, Tamer said, he has been impressed by how readily children connect his book’s troubled forest of Foggitytree — a place where the grass is purple and the animals drink tea and eat mixetymash pies — to their own back yards.
“Kids already have their own ideas of what problems they’re worried about,” he said. “They say, it’s not just in the rainforest, but here.”
Most of the time, Tamer focuses on people at the opposite end of the age spectrum — senior citizens, with whom he works as the volunteer coordinator at a Manassas nursing home. He is working on a novel about a man coming to the end of his life.
But once he picks the winner of his contest in October, Tamer will return to the Snugglefink, with the goal of publishing the sequel by the end of next year. He does not quite know how the story will go — that’s up to his young contestants.
“I really do want to make it more about the kids and show them that they can make a difference,” he said.