By Cindy Mindell
WEST HARTFORD – It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s… Schlimpoon?
The brainchild of former teacher Judy Siegel, the colorful sprite who is a secret friend to children has finally made her literary debut. The book, The Schlimpoon and Peter, is 40 years in the making. It took root when Siegel began to spin tales about the character and her adventures for her own children, as well as their friends and neighbors, as the family moved around Connecticut.
A Meriden native, Siegel grew up attending Temple B’nai Abraham in Meriden, where her family was among the founding members and where she celebrated her bat mitzvah and confirmation, taught Sunday school, and was married. Siegel still stays connected to her hometown temple community through its newsletter and the Sarah Zietz Pierson Scholarship Fund, established in memory of her late aunt.
Siegel received her BA in Elementary Education at the University of Connecticut in 1966 and began teaching in Weymouth, Mass. when she and her husband moved to the Boston area for 18 months. She continued to teach for four years after they returned to Connecticut, where they first lived in Bloomfield and joined Beth Hillel Synagogue. Siegel earned a Master’s degree in Elementary Education at the University of Hartford in 1971, the same year the first of her two daughters was born. She became a stay-at-home mom for the next 10 years, teaching English as a second language to adults in Windsor. The family moved to Granby and became active members of Farmington Valley Jewish Congregation-Emek Shalom, where their two daughters became b’not mitzvah. Siegel returned to teaching in the Granby Public Schools for 20 years, receiving a Teacher of the Year award before retiring in 2004.
Siegel and her husband then relocated to West Hartford and joined Beth El Temple, switching to Congregation Beth Israel when daughter Melissa moved to the community with her own family and joined that synagogue. Active in the Greater Hartford Jewish community, Siegel is a life member of the Jewish Children’s Service Organization, based in West Hartford, where she serves on the board, and is also a life member of Hadassah and Brandeis National Committee.
Schlimpoon was born one summer as a way to entertain her two young daughters, Siegel recalls.
“I started writing rhyming stories about the character,” she says. “Putting together a few fun syllables, ‘Schlimpoon’ was named,” she recalls. “It rolled off our tongues and made us laugh. I wrote one story and found myself writing nine more by the end of that summer.”
Schlimpoon, a fairy-like character, flies down from her home in the clouds to help a child solve a problem – jealousy, loneliness, fear, hating bedtime. “I wanted my little girls to enjoy the rhyme and rhythm, laugh at Schlimpoon’s antics, and to learn that they can solve their own problems,” she says.
Siegel began reading her stories to her daughters’ friends and at the local library and preschools. When she returned to teaching a few years later, she used the Schlimpoon stories in her classroom as part of a lesson unit on self-reliance. Students became so engaged with the character that many used her as inspiration for their own stories, skits, and drawings.
Now, Siegel reads the stories to her grandchildren and their friends and classmates. Over the years, many children who hear the stories have encouraged Siegel to publish them. In 2013, she finally took the advice.
She found local illustrator, Susan Maddi Cancian, through word of mouth, and recruited Tim Confessore, owner of Cricket Press in West Hartford. She worked with web designer Josiah Boyd on a kid-friendly, interactive website which features activities and audio excerpts of Siegel’s first book, The Schlimpoon and Peter. In this first published book, Schlimpoon helps Peter overcome his fear of visiting the doctor’s office. “Getting the first of the 10 stories into living color has been an unbelievably enriching learning experience,” says Siegel, who is already working with Cancian on a second book, The Schlimpoon and Bedtime.
Here is how Siegel introduces Schlimpoon to her young audience in her new book:
She was pink, green, and yellow,
Certainly not a fellow
Because of the sandals she was wearing
And the sunglasses through which she was staring
“I’m a secret friend, that’s how it must be.
No mom or dad has ever seen me.
I help children with a problem
By teaching them how they might solve them!”
For more information: schlimpoon.com.
CAP: Author Judy Siegel with her first published book.