A conversation Jessica Valentin had with her daughter, Isabella, inspired the Wesley Chapel woman to write her first children’s book.
Jessica said they were in the car on the way to an appointment, when she was encouraging her daughter to use her writing and drawing skills.
To make the conversation more concrete, she asked her daughter what kind of story she would like.
Isabella responded: “Mom, I love unicorns.”
So, they began brainstorming about a story that would involve the mythical creature, and from that kernel of an idea, Jessica fleshed out the outline of a story.
They decided that Jessica would write the story, and Isabella would draw the characters.
“It became a family affair,” Jessica said.
Kayla, Isabella’s twin sister and the twins’ younger sister, Iliana, suggested names for the other characters in the story, and shared their perspectives.
They decided to try to publish the story, and Jessica decided to hire a professional artist to illustrate the book. She selected professional artist Stephanie Richoll to illustrate the book, and the two plan to continue the collaboration on future projects.
Jessica’s husband, Anthony “Tony,” a retired New York City police officer, has been a huge supporter, the author said. He’s the one who is covering the costs for the venture.
Initially, Jessica had hoped to find a literary agent and a publisher for the project.
But, when she wasn’t making any progress, she didn’t want that to be the end of the story.
So, she decided to self-publish the book, “Tony and His Mythical Friends,” and is selling the book on Amazon.
At one point, the book reached No. 59 on Amazon, in the Children’s Folklore and Myths category, she said.
The book tells the tale of a camping trip, where a boy notices a flickering light at a nearby campsite and decides to check it out.
He discovers a group of unusual-looking campers.
It’s a story that touches on the themes of kindness, inclusion, empathy and friendship.
Of course, publishing a book in the time of COVID-19 has its complications.
On the one hand, the pandemic gave Jessica time to work on her first book, and another one that’s in progress.
On the other hand, book readings she’d hope to give to help promote the book have been put on hold.
Meanwhile, she’s using social media tools — such Facebook, Twitter and Instagram — to help get the word out about her book.
She realizes that she is an unknown author, with much to learn.
She wants to help children to develop a love for reading, and she hopes this book — and others she has planned, will help make that happen.
“They can escape their world or their stress,” Jessica said.
Surprisingly, the author did not enjoy reading or writing when she was young.
“I wanted something different for my girls,” she said, adding that she frequently read to them when they were small, hoping to help them appreciate the power of stories.
She has big ideas for where she wants to take her writing.
“I want to reach more kids. I’m just at the beginning,” the author said.
She acknowledges achieving her goals will take time and won’t be easy.
“You always start at the bottom. No one really starts at the top,” she said.
Even if her books never become No. 1 bestsellers, she thinks her efforts are worthwhile.
“It’s a love letter to my kids,” the author said.
To find out more about the book, go to Facebook: Tony and His Mythical Friends by Jessica Valentin; Instagram: @tonyandhismythicalfriends; or, Twitter: @TMythicalFriends
Published October 21, 2020