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.”
For more information go to: www.thepeppermints.org