Two, Because We’re Twins

Our children present an interesting mirror to us. We might catch glimpses of our younger selves in them, reflect upon our experience at their age, or imagine our parents’ experience now that those shoes are on our feet. The Ella Zoo is as much about being a parent as it is about the antics and attributes of a growing girl.

My first born, my beautiful little Ella, gave birth to my motherhood. As a new mom, I learned alongside her, slowly pulling myself up to my parent stature. Although now it seems obvious, one of the things that took time to realize was how a unique aspect of my and my husband’s childhoods would influence our parenting. My husband and I are both identical twins.

No, my twin sister did not marry my husband’s twin brother.

And yes, I assumed a question and answered it.

Because I expect questions whenever it is revealed that we are twins. For example, my husband and I are also often asked, Did you have twins? (No. Our two children are both singles.) But when we were younger, in reference to our siblings, it was always: Who is taller? Who was born first? Who is smarter?

Comparison was not only inevitable— people marveled at how incredibly alike my sister and I were—but also necessary in order to tell us apart from one another.

I was taller. She was thinner. I was better at sports and art. She was better at math and history. I was older, by five minutes.

I love being a twin. But I am also an individual.

Born of this experience was my desire to be recognized without being set apart as less than or greater than my sister. Surely there was something about me that might simply be me. And so by being identical, I learned to value difference.

It was not something I expected to draw upon to parent my two very different children. But eventually I realized, though more direct for twins, comparison was inevitable and frustrating for all children. As a mother, I needed to remember to offer what had been so important to me: to allow ample freedom for their changing natures, recognize their emerging selves, and celebrate them as masters of their individuality.

That was how the child in me became the most suitable mother for my children.

Chicken or the Egg

How could any mother put one of her children first?

In the time since I published my book, the question I most often hear is, “Are you going to write another?” My answer is immediate and honest, “Of course I am.” The second half of my response is admittedly crafted for social ease and so is both brief and inadequately simple, “After all I have two children. I need to write one for my son.”

Sometimes, mothers gasp. Admittedly, I have written a love story of a book dedicated to one child and not the other. There’s a reason for this, of course. It may have a little to do with Ella being my first born, but my transformation from designer into author involved more, just as the transformation from woman into mother involved more than pregnancy and birth.

Which is why, following one of the many insights gleaned from parenthood—learning to put myself first on occasion—my second book now in progress will be a novel.

But, my first book will always be uniquely special. The Ella Zoo is my favorite love story. Not the girl meets boy variety where over time two once unknowns become closer and closer until they are one. It is that story in reverse. How a woman finally meets the one she’s always known she would love but the child, who was once literally one with the woman, grows increasing independent until one day, she leaves home. The ideal motherhood is the immense joy of witnessing the creation of a successful adult. And it is the most miraculous love story of all time.

Now, after a few gasps, I’m ready to share a revised and much longer second half of my response. Briefly, although about Ella, The Ella Zoo is much more. It is about motherhood and so, while there will be a third book to dedicate eventually, my first book was always equally about my son and the attention he received that too often my beautiful, strong and fiercely independent daughter once did not, not as obviously.

Follow my blog as I share my parenthood story behind The Ella Zoo and my first borns.

"This is one of those books that children will keep and pull out as adults, re-reading with new appreciation when they are older."

A Rewarding Loss

Bolstered by my recent back-to-back wins, I entered The Ella Zoo into another national Indie Book Award. This time, because there were no specialty book or design categories, I entered in the Children’s Book category, a first. And this time, I did not win. I have faced my first loss.

Thankfully, I received written commentary from one of the judges (see below). And now, having had time to work through my disappointment and reflect — I expected it. Still, after receiving the review, I realized, I was still honored by the judges!

Clearly, when judged on its merits, The Ella Zoo is a well-received book. The Ella Zoo had received the highest marks in all criteria used to evaluate book entries in its category, except two. In these, it had not received low scores, instead it had received NO scores. It had been disqualified. And I’ll be honest — upon reflection, this was not surprising.

In the early stages of writing and developing my book, I had shopped The Ella Zoo to a number of publishers. And as many writers do, I received impersonal form rejection letters but also few more descriptive, insightful dings. It became clear that I was taking a few risks with my book. The Ella Zoo simply didn’t fit easily into standard genres and reading levels. Despite some favorable reactions and interests, there were risks that publishers were not willing to take, primarily related to:

  • Character My main character changed. Unlike Charlie Brown or Lily and Her Purple Purse, she looked different on EVERY PAGE, vastly different. Not only did her clothing change, but also her size changed because her age changed and her interests changed. In terms of publishing criteria, my character was not well developed. However, my key interest in my collection of poems was that my character evolved. I wrote poem after poem enthralled by my daughters changing appearance, changing interests and our changing relationship — it was that evolution that captivated me. In recognition of this risk, I added her most-loved doll (his name is Papoo) into the illustrations so there would be one unchanging element, an identifying accessory. But otherwise, I was steadfast in my determination that my character evolve, as all children do.
  • Age My story uses poetic forms and vocabulary that are “old.” Even though it had children’s book appeal it did not fit into a children’s reading level. However, while I was raised on plenty of nursery rhymes, my mother also read poetry by Wordsworth, Lord Byron, Eugene Field and more to me. I was enthralled by their soft rhythms and deeper mystery. Because of its musicality, I believe poetry is ageless, or certainly can be when a parent reads it to you, full of understanding and intrigue. If the parent is engaged, I know the child will be engaged and inspired. This is an ideal book to share between parents and children.

I understood these risks. However, I adamantly believed they were key to my poetry collection. And so, while I revised my design and story to include elements to engage readers of all ages and address these issues, I remained steadfast in my belief in my story and that the merits of the risks were worth it. This is why I made the decision to self-publish my “family book.”

So please, do me this favor. If you believe in its merits too, please share a review on my Facebook page, on Amazon or on Good Reads or simply share it with your friends. I could use your support to help The Ella Zoo find its audience!

Below is the complete commentary I received from Judge 4 of the 23rd Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards.

THE ELLA ZOO by Elizabeth Dimmette Coyne is a delightful book of poems illustrated with verve that is sure to be appreciated by children and the adults they love. This is one of those books that children will keep and pull out as adults, re-reading with new appreciation when they are older, I think.

The production values of this book are lovely. Choosing a black and white motif with a hint of red actually makes this book stand out among other books on today’s market. This reminds me a little of Shel Silverstein. The back cover copy is clever, and it’s great that we learn where to buy the book.

“The Pellegrine” is one of the more interesting poems, in my view. It made me chuckle. Moles are quite odd and I still am not crazy about them even though I am long past childhood myself. Thank goodness for dermatology! That aside, children certainly can strip one of vanity very quickly. Thankfully they can also build you up even more quickly.  Of course, the other poems were also cute and witty. I enjoyed the collection in its entirety, along with the delightful illustrations.

I very much appreciated the notes inside from both the author and the illustrator, along with photos of both. This is a warm and personal book, sure to be cherished by friends and fans alike. Nice work!