By Karen Zautyk
Can you imagine plaid flowers?
This is not a rhetorical question. Think about it. What tartan would you choose and why?
Can you imagine a rainbow kangaroo or a candy-striped zebra?
These and other questions are posed in a delightful new children’s book titled, naturally, “Can You Imagine Plaid Flowers?” and written by Kearny resident Laurie J. Roden-Perrone.
Though directed at very young readers, aged 3-6, and designed to excite their imaginations and creativity, your correspondent also found it inspiring.
After all, an adult needs an imagination boost every once in awhile, too. If I knew anything about horticulture, I might even give plaid flowers a shot.
You never know.
And that’s the point. Imagination is limitless. But, as we get older, it is also too-often underutilized. I hereby thank Ms. Perrone for the reminders.
On Saturday morning, she gave a reading of her book to youngsters at the Kearny Public Library and hopes to have another reading eventually, but we linked up by phone.
I had read the book and was intrigued by it, its marvelous illustrations (drawn by the author’s aunt Susan Roden) and the personal story Perrone tells in the introduction.
One of the acknowledgements is to her mother, Dennie Roden-Cunningham, “who made a courageous choice to keep her child in 1970,” a choice made at a time “when the practice of having children out of wedlock was considered shameful.”
Perrone readily shared her family’s story, which is one of mututal support and enduring love. Born in Newark and raised in Irvington, the young Laurie “had four mothers,” her mother, her grandmother Grace and two aunts, Linda and Sue.
When Laurie was just 10 months old, her mother married Ronald Jones, who became the baby’s stepfather. Add in two other father figures: her grandfather and an uncle.
“We were a very close-knit family,” Perrone said. “I was never without somebody there supporting me. I was so blessed in so very many ways.”
In a message to parents at the end of the book, Perrone urges them to “reach out” to single parents. “All children should be encouraged to dream and imagine good things for their futures,” she writes.
“Please offer parents and their children your compassion, not your indifference.”
The book itself had a circuitous route to publication. It is written in the form of a poem, one specifically created for a Kean College poetry contest back in 1989. But Perrone decided it wasn’t good enough and was going to toss it out.
Enter Aunt Sue, who found the verses and set about illustrating them. “She said I should be a children’s writer,” Perrone recalled. Nothing came of it, then, but Perrone kept the poem and the drawings.
Years later, Perrone and her husband, John, were cleaning out the basement of their Kearny apartment when he found the illustrated manuscript. “It made him smile,” she recalled, “and he said, ‘You should publish this.’”
And the pictures were perfect. They looked as if they had been drawn with crayons, and “that’s the whole idea!” he said.
Then the wheels began turning down the road to publication.
Of unfulfilled or longdelayed dreams, Perrone said, “Sometimes it takes somebody else to say, “Yes, you can!”
“Sometimes you need this one piece of the puzzle before the thing that you have in your heart can come out.”
Perrone, who used to report for The Observer, is now an IT administrator working fulltime in the fashion industry in Manhattan. But she still finds time to write and to volunteer at Renaissance House in Newark, where she teaches a creative writing workshop.
Her first young-adult novel, “The Fire in Grace: Coming Home,” is scheduled to debut in the spring. To pre-order that book, and to learn more about Perrone, visit www.plaidflowers.com.
“Can You Imagine Plaid Flowers?” is available at www. lulu.com, which also offers a downloadable ebook version for only $2.50.
And remember, all of us, children to adults, can benefit from using our imaginations to see our world not just as it is, but as it might be.