Longtime CUSD teacher authors children’s book

by Andrew Alonzo | aalonzo@claremont-courier.com

For the past 34 years, Marisa Nicely taught elementary students in the Claremont Unified School District. And though she retired a year ago, her passion for helping children has yet to cease.

Now the author of “Ezer the Bagel: The Rescue,” the first in a new children’s book series, Nicely is hoping to continue to teach young ones.

“Ezer the Bagel: The Rescue,” illustrated by Priya Kakati, was released October 10 through Nicely Publishing with the aid of the City of Claremont. The book tells the story of the everlasting bond between Nicely and her mixed-breed basset hound/beagle, Ezer.

It begins in early December 2019, when three-month-old Ezer was found on a cold Pomona street by a volunteer with Inland Valley Humane Society. After the shelter got him adoption-ready, it sent an email to locals describing the uniquely mixed white and brown pup.

Though still heartbroken from the recent loss of her 15-year-old basset hound Rocky, Nicely answered the email. She officially adopted the pup on December 13.

She named him Ezer, which means “helper” in Hebrew, but quickly adopted the nickname “bagel” since he’s a hybrid between beagle and basset.

Longtime CUSD teacher and now children’s book author Marisa Nicely smiles with her dog Ezer recently at Sycamore Elementary School. COURIER/photo Andrew Alonzo

After a short time warming up to his new home and owner, the two began a turbulent first few months together.

“I almost lost him,” Nicely said. “When he was given to me, he had a really, really bad case of pneumonia. The chances were not good. He was not doing well. It was hard and I was working as a teacher full-time so it literally took friends that would come and help out with him.”

There were many sleepless nights, both at home and the vet’s office. It seemed like Ezer wasn’t going to pull through, but with his mom and newfound friends by his side, he did.

Since his recovery in mid-2020, the duo’s daily routine has consisted of breakfast together before heading out for a short morning walk. In the afternoon, Nicely teaches Spanish to students online via nicelyspanish.com while Ezer lays at her feet. Before dusk, they take another walk, which usually ends with Ezer chasing lizards to the point of exhaustion.

Their favorite walking spots are Sycamore and Mountain View elementary schools in Claremont, the Village, and Excellence In Education in Monrovia.

“He likes picking up scraps from the ground,” Nicely said, noting Ezer’s affinity for Crème Bakery, House of Pong and 42nd Street Bagel.

Over time, Nicely noticed the community’s love for Ezer as passersby gave him pets or snacks. Seeing the community stop for Ezer — especially children — reminded her of her students, and  planted the seed of an idea to turn their story into a children’s book series.

“Ezer the Bagel: The Rescue” took more than a year to complete and went through numerous rounds of edits before hitting store shelves last month. It is meant to teach about finding and embracing self-worth.

“It has a message that will basically help the children gain an understanding of personal value and personal worth,” Nicely said. “Being an educator for so long, I’ve noticed that throughout the years, each year I feel like there’s been more and more of a hardship or challenge for children to really understand what they were created to be. It’s a big challenge for them to recognize or understand their worth.”

She also hopes the book can address children’s recurring negative feelings. Like Ezer tells readers, whether one is rich, poor, happy, sad, ugly or handsome, none of those labels determine one’s worth.

At the end of the tale, Ezer tells readers that despite all of life’s hardships, “I am valuable simply because there’s no one else like me. I am one of a kind. I am loved. And so are YOU!”

“Ezer the Bagel: The Rescue” is available in hardcover or paperback at amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, and ezerthebagel.com, or as an e-book on Kindle.

Free specialty bookmarks and coloring activity pages are available for download at ezerthebagel.com, as are opportunities for local teachers to schedule a classroom reading of “Ezer the Bagel: The Rescue” with Nicely.

The second book in her series is nearly complete, Nicely said, and will be released next year. It will cover Ezer’s relationship with the Nicely family, their friends, his recovery from pneumonia, and how to maintain healthy relationships.

For more information, visit ezerthebagel.com.

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