What started as a project to get their daughters to talk more about their days, has turned into a second full-time job for two full-time Ashburn moms.
Michele Lalicata and Wendy Hockersmith published their first children's book, "Pippa's Magic Pocket," last month and have started a contest so that children can include their own thoughts and feelings in the second Pippa book.
"Pippa's Magic Pocket" is the story of the young rabbit, Pippa, who each day collects the stories of her day into her magic pocket to share with her mother, Queen Dazzle, at bedtime.
The inspiration for the story came from Lalicata's relationship with her own now 5-year-old daughter. Frustrated by monosyllabic answers when she asked about her daughter's day, Lalicata searched libraries and the Internet for a book that would help her and her daughter communicate.
"I was looking for a story that would fill the need for her telling about her day," Lalicata said. "And I wanted the feelings that go along with that."
Not able to find anything that worked, Lalicata turned to her neighbor and best friend, Hockersmith, who worked as a librarian.
Hockersmith suggested that Lalicata write the book herself.
The two friends did just that, with Hockersmith also doing the illustrations.
"The book just flowed naturally because we knew what we wanted it to say," Lalicata said.
THE TWO WOMEN have been friends since 1992 when they first worked together. When they talk about "Pippa's Magic Pocket" and their passion for the book's message, they often finish each other sentences and trains of thought and it is easy to imagine how their writing process went.
A lot of the work for the book was done at Market Street Coffee in Leesburg, sitting in the plush armchairs in front of the fire. They would work during the day while their daughters, who are also best friends, were at their preschool, located around the corner from the coffee shop.
When the book was complete, both Lalicata's daughter and Hockersmith's daughter, now 4, loved it immediately. Reading the book became a bedtime ritual and the girls began giving their mothers detailed descriptions of their days. They made their own pockets and would tuck their moments into them to be discussed before bed.
"The conversations that came out of my 3- to 4-year-old's mouth was amazing," Hockersmith said.
Lalicata's daughter even made pockets for her stuffed animals and dolls, who share their daily moments with her every night.
In the book, Pippa fills her pockets throughout the day with moments that made her proud, moments that made her sad and moments that made her mad to share with her mother later.
It is that idea that Lalicata and Hockersmith feel is the most important message of the book.
"The magic pocket really helps with anger management or stress," said Lalicata, who has a master's degree in education and a master's degree in counseling. "[My daughter] can manage them because she can put them in the magic pocket. She has somewhere to put those feelings."
Hockersmith believes it is the fun act of putting their moments in their pockets that gets children excited about the concept, but that eventually they all get excited simply by talking about their lives and their feelings.
"The whole purpose is to get kids talking about their feelings," she said.
ORIGINALLY, THE BOOK was intended only for their own daughters, but halfway through the writing process, the two mothers realized the book could be a helpful tool for all mothers and daughters.
"It didn't take us long to realize that [the book] would be a good way to help kids with literacy and their emotional education," Lalicata said.
The path to publication was not a complicated one. The women researched publishing companies and discovered that amazon.com had a small publisher. Amazon loved the women's book and, after some "tweaking," published the book Feb. 14.
The authors hope that the book, as well as Pippa and Queen Dazzle's relationship, will be a model for parents and children on how to communicate. They expect that the lessons held within the book will help build a foundation for communication that will assist families through the trials and possible pitfalls of growing up.
"The biggest thing is to build that parent and child trust, so they are comfortable coming to you," Hockersmith, who has a master's degree in both special education and library science, said. "The best way to do that is to be a good listener."
Both Lalicata and Hockersmith are confident that they have created a pattern that their daughters will continue throughout their lives.
"Communication is a habit that they create," Hockersmith said. "My daughter talks about her feelings all the time because she has been taught the language to talk about them."
SINCE THE PUBLICATION of "Pippa's Magic Pocket" the authors have been working to spread the book's message to the outside community. They have made themselves available for school visits and are already making plans to spend time with students from Aldie, Banneker, Mill Run and Pinebrook elementary schools.
"Since [the authors] aren't professional writers, it shows the students that writing could be, if not a full-time profession, at least a supplemental thing in their lives," Mill Run Elementary School Principal Paul L. Vickers said.
Lalicata and Hockersmith are planning to work with Mill Run second-graders on writing, illustration and teaching them the principles of the Pippa books.
"I think the book has a great message," Vickers said. "We are planning on using it in our primary guidance program so the teachers can use it in their classrooms."
The authors are also working on getting their book into local libraries and bookstores and hope that their writing contest will inspire a lot of children.
"We want to give kids the opportunity to express how they are feeling," Lalicata said.
For the contest, children are asked to answer the question, "Pretend that you have a magic pocket. What stories about your day and feelings would you put in it?" The winning entries will be printed, along with the child's name, in the second Pippa book, scheduled to be released in fall 2006.
The next book is going to bring new characters into Pippa's life, including a male character named Sammy. The authors hope that the inclusion of a male character will encourage boys to become proud Pippa readers.
"There is going to be some different dialogue in the second book," Hockersmith said. "We hope it will have an even wider appeal. The first two books are going to be a really good pairing."
While there are no official requirements for winning the contest — besides that it must be in their own words, even if they cannot write it themselves — Lalicata and Hockersmith are looking for an understanding of Pippa's message.
"We want to see how they relate their lives to the book," Hockersmith said. "We are really interested in getting to the heart of the matter and seeing how they put that on paper."