Traveling with a stuffed, 4-foot penguin can present some peculiar situations, Kathy Grogan will be the first to tell you. But Grogan, who’s authored several books including a fourth addition to her Patty Penguin series, said wrestling her literary mascot through doors, belting her into the passenger seat of her car, and whisking her away to school readings and book signings all add spice to life.
“One time I was setting up to read to a kindergarten class, and a student took one look at her, wonder in his eyes, and said, ‘Whoooooaaa…That’s a lot of penguin!’” she said, laughing. “It was the way he said it, it just tickled me. Kids and plenty of adults seem to get a kick out of seeing this girl.”
This Saturday, 9 a.m.-noon, Grogan will be selling and signing her books including her newest, “What Patty Penguin Loves about Christmas,” at Park Hills Library. The books are $8 — cheaper than the Amazon price — and anyone who buys three or more will only pay $7.50 each that day, plus they’ll get a Patty Penguin pin while supplies last.
In addition to the Park Hills library, the books are for sale at Mineral Area Office Supply in Park Hills, Christine’s Café in Desloge, Parkland Healthmart in Desloge and Earth Mother Health Foods in Farmington. On Amazon, sales have been extremely successful, she said.
“At one point, someone told me ‘No Fun Being Sick’ had hit #27 on Amazon’s list of hot-selling children’s books,” she said about one of the Patty books. “By the time I found that online, it was at #24. And then, another time I looked, it had climbed to #1 on the hottest-selling children’s books, for that time. I took a picture of it with my phone, in case I didn’t see it again.”
Having written “Baby Groundhog’s First Day Out” in 2013, the idea for the Patty Penguin series sprang from having received a charming little penguin ornament from her friend, Brenda.
“We had so much fun with this Christmas ornament around the office,” Grogan said. “We kept hiding her in places. One time, I felt like I was being watched. I looked in the potted plant, and there was this penguin staring over the rim at me. Someone would take their coat off the rack, and there was the penguin. We had so much fun with her.”
Later, the mischievous penguin — a flightless bird — began to put on some real miles, as various friends took her on trips around the world, Flat Stanley-style.
But it was when Grogan was ill, struggling with symptoms of myesthenia gravis, a form of muscular dystrophy, that she came up with the idea for “Patty Penguin: It’s No Fun Being Sick.”
“I could see the whole story in my mind, but I knew I couldn’t start there,” she said. “You only get one chance to introduce a character, so I came up with ‘Patty Penguin: Welcome to the World.’”
In her books, she incorporates inside jokes as well as subtle references to faith, friends and the importance of family. The illustrations include crosses in unexpected places, for instance.
And when Patty travels to Antarctica, she makes two penguin friends, Brenda and Linda — the names of the original ornament giver and the giver’s sister, who is also Grogan’s friend.
In the book, these penguin friends “talk funny,” Grogan said, and when Patty asks her mother why, her mother explains the penguins are from the Southern Colony. In real life, Grogan said, her friends Brenda and Linda are from Kentucky. Grogan said she hoped to convey the importance of making firm, fast friends with people and respecting and embracing their differences as enriching.
“If penguins can be different and it’s OK, then people can be different and it’ll be OK,” Grogan said. “I’ve already had some people who know what the Christmas book is about say ‘I’m so glad you captured the fun of Christmas, but you also captured what it’s about.’ There are references in there as to the ‘reason for the season,’ and things that will make people laugh, or ‘awwww.’”
Her children’s books include
- Baby Groundhog’s First Day Out (2013), inspired by a groundhog couple and their baby who lived under Grogan’s shed.
- Patty Penguin: It’s No Fun Being Sick (2016), her initial series idea, she thought she had better properly introduce the character, so she wrote…
- Patty Penguin, Welcome to the World (2015), in which the heroine ventures out into the unknown to make new friends.
- Patty Penguin’s Favorite Days of the Year (2018), the gentle-hearted penguin shares her favorite things about holidays throughout the year.
- What Patty Penguin Loves About Christmas (2019), the latest, celebrating holiday traditions and the birth of Jesus Christ, complete with penguin nativity.
If Grogan’s name sounds familiar, she’s the executive director of the not-for-profit New Beginnings in Bonne Terre, which provides support to people experiencing grief and loss and is located within the Shared Blessings homeless shelter. She also oversees its medical equipment loan program.
She wrote a book about the New Beginnings experiences she and others have collected over the years called “New Years of New Beginnings,” which came out in 2011.
“Working with New Beginnings Grief and Loss, and the medical equipment loan program, and Shared Blessings Transitional Shelter, and the writing … life is busy,” she said. “I have some health issues, and it’s part of what keeps me going. I slow things down when I can, and when I can’t, I don’t.
“But faith and a good attitude will take you a long way. I’m blessed with family and friends. That takes you a long way.”
One year, in 2017, when her illustrator was unavailable, she didn’t have a book ready for Christmas.
“Traditionally, it’s September or October when I release it, and I didn’t get one out that year. People contacted me wanting to know where they were,” she said. “A couple people got really upset with me. One lady was mad and said, ‘Fine, I’ll call you on Christmas and you can explain to my children why they don’t have a Patty Penguin book.’ And I thought to myself, ‘I think … there’s a compliment in here somewhere…?’”
Most of the time, though, the compliments she has received are more obvious and heartfelt, she said.
“I was in a restaurant and a woman came up and asked me if I wrote the Patty Penguin books, and I said yes, and she said, ‘I put my daughter to sleep with one of your books last night, it was the story I read her,’” Grogan said. “It was a thrill! She said her daughter always laughs when Patty sneezes. How wonderful it is, to know your story was the last thing a child heard before she fell asleep.”
Grogan said kids spend so much time now playing video games, on the phone and on the computers, that she worries books easily could become a lost experience.
“Don’t you remember, as a child, certain figures in books seemed bigger than life? When you take the time to sit down and read a book to your child, you’ve just made a memory,” she said. “I like that those who have started from the beginning with Patty, they’re watching her world expand. She takes them along for the ride. She doesn’t have super powers, she’s like them. She’s real.”
Sarah Haas is the assistant editor for the Daily Journal. She can be reached at 573-518-3617 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.