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The Peppermints featured in Main Line Media News

The Peppermints author talks about her life and how the children’s book series came to be

Nikki Maloney brings stories from her father to today’s children

Lower Merion >> Nikki Maloney writes in a sunny corner of her kitchen or a coffee shop in nearby Bryn Mawr.

When not writing children’s books, Maloney, 46, works part time as a reading specialist at The Shipley School, tutors at Holy Child School at Rosemont, offers help with college essays and SAP prep, and, as if that weren’t enough, she’s the mother of two teenage sons and a daughter in middle school.

Her series of children’s books grew from tales that Maloney’s father, Frank Schanne, would tell to Maloney and her three siblings when they were children. Maloney decided to write these stories and share them in books after hearing her dad tell one of the tales to her three children.

“I overheard him telling the story and the kids were just transfixed,” she said. “It was vaguely familiar.” That story became the basis of her first book, “The Peppermints: A Ski Vacation,” that she published in 2014. Over the next four years her dad would tell the kids a different Peppermints story when they visited their grandparents, now retired in Jupiter, Fla.

Maloney started writing the stories down to preserve them but realized by the way her children were reacting, that these stories could be books. She asked her father to be her co-author but he declined, telling her it was her “gig,” she recounted during an interview at her Villanova home.

The characters are loosely based on herself and her siblings and parents — she is the youngest of four — and some of the events in her childhood. But she set the adventures of the children in “The Peppermints” books further back in time, into the 1950s, the era her parents grew up in, and has researched the various settings to ensure accuracy.

“He made up this family that happened to have two girls and two boys just like us,” said Maloney. For example, one character liked to swim like she did. Another one played baseball like her brother.

She asked her dad where he got the name, the Peppermints, for the family in his stories but he doesn’t remember. However, his grandchildren call him “Goodie” because he’s always giving them sweets.

The illustrated books are at a 5th grade reading level are meant to be read to children or for children to read to themselves.

Maloney believes it’s very important for parents or grandparents to tell or read stories to their children at bedtime.

“I know we’re all exhausted but it’s so beautiful to end your day like that, to give the gift of that (reading),” she said.

“When I first started doing the books I thought about doing a collection but when I met my first illustrator, he said, ‘Each one of them stands alone,’” she said. That artist, Ted Layton, suggested that she release the books one at a time and possibly compile a collection later. She met him “serendipitously” because both her mother, Nancy Schanne, and his mother are artists and shared a gallery exhibit.

“He loved mid-century and all these books take place in the 1950s,” she said. In addition to honoring her dad, also “the world was very different back then.

“One the one hand, it was very sheltered in way, but on the other hand, kids solved a lot of their own problems. There wasn’t as much parental involvement, for better or for worse. I know that when I read books when I was younger, I appreciated when kids figured things out themselves.”

“The whole family is in these books, but the kids kind of do their own thing,” Maloney said.

When she visits schools as a guest author and talks with students, Maloney shows them the illustrations of a “Woodie” station wagon and a split level house and asks, “Does this look it’s in the present day?” And they tell her no but they don’t know when it is, she said.

Sometimes her young fans have trouble understanding that although the characters are based on real people, they are fictional.

“They are real to me,” she tells them. “I hope they remind you of things you do as a family.”

“I try to throw in some ’50s slang, too,” she said. She calls her books, “Vintage Modern.” They are realistic, include some tall tale-type plot points but also reassuringly depict a warm family life.

“Kids are growing up so fast you want to give them a chance to read something that’s not post-apocalyptic,” she said.

In the most recent book, “The Peppermints: Big Sur,” Maloney recounts the story of her parents bringing home the family’s first puppy, a “runt of the litter” who grew up to be “taller than my father when he stood up,” she said.

“It’s really fun! I’ve been in touch with the Big Sur librarian and she wants me to come and do a reading,” said Maloney. Her own dogs, Grizzly and Bear, make guest appearances, too.

Because Layton “got too busy” to continue, Maloney ran an ad and found another illustrator, Christian Ridder, an architectural student at Temple University, who has brought his own touch to the characters, she said.

“Christian brought them back to life, he re-imagined them,” she said. “The fun thing about each of the books, there are hidden peppermint sticks in each illustration,” she said.

When Maloney was working on a book set in the Vermont camp her father went to as a boy, Camp Brebeuf, she managed through talking with her former babysitter to reconnect her dad with his best friend from that camp and also to speak with the man who founded that camp through a chance meeting at a luncheon. It was an opportunity to garner authentic details for the book.

The next book, coming out this summer, will feature the Peppermints on a trip to the Philadelphia Zoo. She hopes to have a launch party at the zoo and also offer the book at the zoo’s store.

Once all 10 Peppermint books are completed, Maloney plans to go back to writing another book that she began earlier, a memoir of vignettes from her own childhood.

As a child, Maloney had a picture book, “My Name is Nicole” by Maud Frere that she dearly loved and also was fond of Shel Silverstein’s “Where the Sidewalk Ends.” When she was 8 years old she happened upon a poetry workshop at her town’s library that showed her the beauty of words.

“I fell in love with books,” she said.

But she missed some school due to an illness and when she returned Maloney was put into a lower reading group. She lost interest in reading until she rediscovered the pleasure in college, she said. That experience provided a strong feeling of empathy with the kids she teaches as a reading specialist, she said.

Born in Boston, and raised in Connecticut and Nebraska, Maloney attended Rosemont College, where she majored in English. She met her husband, Steve Maloney, a life sciences software engineer, at the shore in Stone Harbor, N.J.

After finishing college, she went into advertising but “felt a little bit of a void” and happened upon a master’s degree program in reading and it “clicked.”

In addition to writing, Maloney enjoys walking with her dogs, swimming, yoga and getting together with friends.

She and her husband are the parents to Alec, 17, a senior at Harriton High School, Sean, 16, a sophomore at Harriton, and Tatum, 13, a student at Welsh Valley Middle School.

So far Maloney has published: “The Peppermints: A Ski Vacation;” “The Peppermints: Summer Camp Treasury;” “The Peppermints: Thanksgiving Day Parade;” “The Peppermints: Be Careful What You Wish For;” and “The Peppermints: Big Sur.”

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The Value of Children’s Writing

by Peppermint fan, Daniel Olivieri


            The thing about great children’s writing is that it doesn’t leave. Not after five years and not after ten. It welds itself to your psyche and makes itself at home in your cerebellum. The best of the stories and characters that you meet every night before bedtime will hitch a ride with you for the rest of your life, if you let them.

The reason why children’s literature can stay with you is that it shows you the whole universe through the lens of just a few pages. For example, look at the Hundred-acre Wood that housed the stories of Winnie-the-Pooh. A. A. Milne, the author of the Winnie-the-Pooh books, doesn’t tell you that a community of friends makes life worth living because he shows it to you page by page. He shows it when Winnie the Pooh encourages Piglet to stand up to his fears. He shows it when Winnie saves Eeyore from the river. In this character of Eeyore he shows that some people may be pessimistic but that doesn’t mean that they don’t make good friends. Authors create characters and worlds within the covers of their books that show us pieces of ourselves people are going to fall in love, whether they are reading about the Hundred Acre Wood or Middle Earth. These stories have the power to put people on the same side, to have different people all go through the same journey.

            This is one of the most powerful abilities of the story: bringing people together. Children’s writers have the opportunity to help draw similarities between the parents who are reading the books after a long day at the office and the children who are hoping they will be allowed to stay up for one more chapter. These books are vessels that do not teach, but rather show their reader lessons. They display morals that children need to hear because they are young enough to remember them and parents need to rehear because they are busy enough to forget them. For example, “‘What day is it?’ asked Pooh. ‘It’s today.’ Squeaked Piglet. ‘My favorite day,” said Pooh.” This doesn’t outright tell you anything about enjoying life. Rather, it puts two characters who love life front of you and allows you to decide whether you want to be like them or not (hint, the correct answer is “Yes, I do want to be like them”). It’s easy to lose touch with these little philosophies of life between your 7:30 latte and your 8:15 meeting with accounting. Experiencing them with your children can remind you of how important they are.

            The best children’s writing also helps people to deal with the problems of life. In the poem “Whatif” Shel Silverstein confronts nocturnal anxieties not with logic or with anger, but with humor and rhymes. He shows the reader about the fears people have before falling asleep.

“Whatif I get beat up?

Whatif there's poison in my cup?

Whatif I start to cry?

Whatif I get sick and die?

Whatif I flunk that test?

Whatif green hair grows on my chest?”

            This gives us the chance to laugh at our worries and use laughter as a way to banish them, or at least begin to deal with them. As Mark Twain wrote, “Against the assault of Laughter nothing can stand.”

            But not only does Shel Silverstein convince his readers that their fears can be seen as funny, he also shows us that our fears are universal. Once you know that you aren’t the only one who stays up worrying it isn’t so daunting to do so. You know that even if you are the only one in your bedroom as you lie awake, you are not alone. You have Shel SIlverstein and everyone else who understands that poem on your side.

            Shel Silverstein’s rhymes and humor don’t only appeal to kids and soft-hearted adults. In fact, they appeal to people who are seen as quite the opposite of children and soft-hearted adults. His song, “A Boy Named Sue” was an absolute hit at the San Quentin prison when Johnny Cash performed it there. This shows that the roughest sector of society,prison inmates, have that same love of stories and rhyme that made The Giving Tree the classic it is. The only difference is that the song came packaged in the cowboy hat and square jaw of Johnny Cash and contained a swear word or two to make it accessible.

            So there are some of the many powers that belong to children’s writing. It can introduce you to new friends, even if those friends are fictional characters. It can remind you of the simple lessons that drip through the cracks of your life. It can be a window for looking at your fears. It can even bring out the same emotions in convicts as it does in first graders. But most of all it’s just fun to sit beside a kid and let the words kidnap your mind and hoist you up into worlds full of anthropomorphic bears, silly problems, and boys named Sue.



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