LUNENBURG — If you had asked Amanda (Moeckel) Calatzis as a child what her favorite show was, she would have easily said “Mister Rogers.” So, of course, she jumped at the chance to make a book about him … one of her longest-running heroes.
Now a talented author and illustrator, Calatzis is excited to announce two events to introduce the community to her newest endeavor “Mister Rogers’ Gift of Music.”
A book signing will be held from noon until 4 p.m., with story times at 1 p.m., 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 24, at Barnes and Noble, 120 Watertower Plaza, in Leominster. She will also celebrate her book at a special story time at 11 a.m. on Monday, Sept. 26, at the Lunenburg Public Library, 1023 Massachusetts Ave.
Calatzis grew up in Lunenburg near the former Whalom Park, then spent a couple of decades as a city-dweller in D.C., San Francisco, and New York City. Now she calls New York’s Hudson Valley home, along with her husband, two children, and three senior dogs.
“One thing I loved about growing up in this area is my exposure to the arts,” Calatzis said. “As a child, my parents sent me to classes at the Fitchburg Art Museum. As an older child, I joined the Guild Dancers in Lunenburg. I took guitar lessons in the music shops of Leominster and Fitchburg.”
Calatzis believes her strong drive to create books for children, came from the Lunenburg Public Library when it was Ritter Memorial Library.
“One of my grandmother’s favorite places to take me as a child,” she said. “She would let me pull out as many books as I wanted and read them all. I remember sitting in the back corner of the old library building, with a pile of ‘Edith the Lonely Doll’, ‘Clifford the Big Red Dog’, ‘Harry the Dirty Dog’, ‘Curious George’, and so many others. I think she thought she was merely teaching me how to read, but she was doing so much more.”
By the time she left home, Calatzis says she had a whole box of tools to navigate life’s ups and downs, creative ways to work through whatever emotions arose.
Calatzis was approached to illustrate this book by her publisher, Page Street Kids, in 2020.
“The author, Donna Cangelosi, and I were already acquainted through our shared agent, Charlotte Boudreau at Prospect Agency,” said Calatzis. “I could feel Donna’s love for Mister Rogers through her beautiful manuscript. She is a psychologist who specializes in children, so I very much respect her knowledge about the kinds of stories that are meaningful for them.”
Calatzis holds an MFA in Illustration from the School of Visual Arts. She is also the author-illustrator of “Khalida and the Most Beautiful Song”.
Her work has been featured on “The Children’s Book Podcast,” “Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast,” and other popular kid’s literature blogs.
“Mister Rogers’ Gift of Music” has been accepted into the prestigious Society of Illustrators’ Original Art Show 2022 in New York City, the biggest children’s book art show in the United States, where Calatzis’ original work from the book will be on display alongside all the best published work of 2022.
“The thing I’m most proud of, in this book, is the further development of my illustration style,” said Calatzis. “I had my daughter right when I signed onto this project, so much of my time was spent with a newborn as I was making these illustrations. I had no time to second-guess myself, so what came through in the drawings feels pure, not over-worked.”
Calatzis explains that illustrating makes her feel full and satisfied.
“When I get a long stretch of time in the studio, it’s like having eaten a nice big dinner, but without that feeling of being over-stuffed,” she said. “A big dinner with a nice coffee afterward. Just satisfied and energized.”
Mister Rogers’ greatest gift was making children feel seen, understood, and special, Calatzis believes.
“This book focuses on the way his music helped him do that,” she said. “He wrote songs about being happy, sad, lonely, angry, and everything in between. He would pour his emotions into his music, in a way that spoke to children, and helped them put their own feelings into words.”
He [Mister Rogers] has said that, in front of the camera, he would pretend he was speaking to just one child, even though he had an audience of hundreds of thousands.
“I certainly thought he was speaking only to me, when I sat, frog-legged, on the floor in front of the TV before school every day,” Calatzis said with a smile.
Debbie Laffond, Head of Children’s Services at the Lunenburg Public Library, says she is thrilled to have Calatzis read her new book to the children in the area.
“I have known Amanda since she was a little girl, dancing her magic with all her heart,” said Laffond. “She is now sharing her ‘magic’ in another way, through story and art that again comes from her heart. We are so fortunate to have her visiting the library to share this wonderful story about our beloved Mr. Rogers.”
Laffond sincerely hopes that readers of all ages will stop by to hear Calatzis’ story and to say hello.
“Children’s books are made of warmth, coziness, self-exploration, validation and the connection between child and grown-up,” said Calatzis. “I can’t imagine a happier place to spend my time.”
For information on her upcoming events, call Barnes & Noble at 978-537-6009 or the Lunenburg Public Library at 978-582-4140. For more information on Amanda (Moeckel) Calatzis, visit amandamoeckel.com.