By Stefanie Jackson
Santa is sick of cookies this year, but not to worry, one local child will not rest until he finds some delectable Eastern Shore seafood to leave out for the big guy on Christmas Eve.
“Santa’s Sick of Cookies” is the first published book of Eastern Shore native and Northampton schools’ Division Teacher Mentor Karen Foley.
Foley treated students and parents to a reading of her new children’s story followed by a book sale and signing at Pungoteague Elementary School’s Title I night on Dec. 13.
In the story, a little boy’s mind wanders up and down the Shore’s working waterfront towns, from Chincoteague to Bayford, wondering what type of seafood he will find for Santa.
The answer is a secret, served with Tabasco sauce. Foley was inspired to write “Santa’s Sick of Cookies” by a shopping trip across the Chesapeake Bay where she found herself in the children’s section of the Barnes and Noble surrounded by books plastered with images of Santa and dozens of Christmas cookies.
He must get sick of cookies, Foley thought. She wondered what would happen if a child wanted to leave Santa something else for a Christmas Eve snack. The idea simmered in her mind all the way home, she said. It took just one weekend to draft the story. Since it was her first book, and the story is based on the Eastern Shore, Foley decided to submit it to a regional publisher.
Even dealing with smaller publishers, Foley was faced with a lot of competition. “It’s a gamble” trying to get a book published, she said. The publisher that accepted her work, Belle Isle Books, chooses only 35 out of 900 manuscripts per year, she said.
Foley wanted the illustrations to be colorful, whimsical, bold, and fun, but “not too realistic,” she said.
She chose illustrator Jessica Gibson from a list provided by the publisher. Even though Gibson is from Detroit, Foley felt Gibson’s style fit the story and its setting.
Foley, who currently resides in Eastville, reflected on why so many local authors write about their Eastern Shore home instead of fantasies or fairy tales.
“The Eastern Shore is unique,” she answered. “The teachers, the area, and the people are all a part of me.”
It also goes back to writing about what and who you know, Foley said. She chose Willis Wharf as the story’s setting because that’s where her father’s family is from. Like Willis Wharf, the other places name dropped in the narrative are known for their aquaculture, the industry in which her son works.
She understands that a lot of kids on the Shore “just can’t wait to see the big, wide world,” and her story serves as a little reminder of what their home has to offer. “I love it here,” Foley said.
Foley’s career before writing her story included 18 years as a middle school English teacher. She earned her National Board Certification and became an assistant principal at Northampton Middle School before becoming Northampton’s division teacher mentor.
Her decision to become a teacher and writer was influenced by her father, educator George Young, who was the superintendent of Northampton schools for 20 years and recently became the first inductee into the Northampton High School Hall of Fame.
Foley said there are “more stories in me,” and she’s already planning a sequel to her Santa tale for next year. She also wants to write a story set on Hog Island.
Foley likes writing Eastern Shore-themed stories because local kids can relate to the setting. She wants to encourage kids to read for pleasure, not just to pass a multiple choice test. Her goal with her books is to give children the “joy of reading.”
By Stefanie Jackson