A mother’s bedtime story, 24 years in the making

When Ryan McGowan asked his mother for a bedtime story, she happily obliged her son with a tale of her own invention, The Adventures of Popcorn and Persimmon. Twenty-four years later, Betsy MacLaren’s adventure story is making a comeback with a new generation of Claremont kids, and this time the tale is available in print.  

The local storyteller has made her literary debut thanks to the assistance of a couple of old friends and the service of a few new ones at Claremont Print. With their help, 200 copies of the author’s children’s story, teaching teamwork and creativity despite adversity, are now circulating at bookshops up north and out of Ms. MacLaren’s south Claremont home.

Ms. MacLaren’s tale was roused out of retirement courtesy of her 7-year-old granddaughter, Megan, eager for one of her grandma’s stories. The original manuscript had remained dormant for years after garnering little interest from publishers. It was a different story for Claremont Print.

“The graphics are fun, lively and they will be just as intriguing to the adults as they are to the kids,” noted Kari Dannenberg, graphic artist and pre-press specialist at Claremont Print. She was also impressed by the zany storyline. “It’s otherworldly without being scary. It lets kids’ imaginations run wild.”

The Adventures of Popcorn and Persimmon follows the colorful tale of 2 brothers who share one body. While two-headed creatures may be an anomaly on Earth, they are not uncommon on the planet Kernel, where the main characters of Ms. MacLaren’s story reside. What is uncharacteristic about Popcorn and Persimmon is not their appearance, but their personality.

The planet Kernel is comprised of 2 towns, Glim and Glum. The townsfolk of Glim are happy and optimistic while the people of Glum are just that, negative and morose. Popcorn and Persimmon—the offspring of a mother from Glim and a father from Glum—are a little bit of both. Unfortunately for Persimmon, who favors his father, Popcorn’s adventurous optimism often wins out, leading them on the intergalactic travels to battle with wizards and dragons along with their faithful dog, Plooter, and their robot companion, Capper.

Just as Popcorn and Persimmon rely on their friends to make it out of their adventures in one piece, Ms. MacLaren has had a lot of people to thank along her journey to the printing presses. Lifelong friend Gloria Judson brought the story to life with her vibrant illustrations, while buddy Ann Shannon tailored her grammar. When it came time to publish, Claremont Print came to the rescue when she thought her only option would be publishing through Internet giants like Amazon.  

“The personal contact makes all the difference,” she recognized. “[Claremont Print] is only 3 blocks away. How could you go wrong?”

It is the first time, after all, that Ms. MacLaren has delved into the print world. However, diving head-first into something new and unexpected is a sort of a hobby for this Claremont woman, who enjoys balancing her work as a registered nurse with her favorite pastime, writing.

Ms. MacLaren went to school at the University of Santa Barbara with the intent of becoming an elementary school teacher. After receiving her credential, she expected to find herself in front of a classroom. Instead she returned to the classroom as a student herself, following in the footsteps of her mother and gaining a second degree as a registered nurse. Adding to her educational repertoire, Ms. MacLaren continued to foster a passion for writing, jotting down poems when the mood struck her. “Lizard Love,” for example, was inspired while out on a walk with her dog.

“Today I spied a lizard/But he did not see me…the object of his interest/Was another little she,” she wrote.

In addition to her writing, she became adept at storytelling, prompted by her son who insisted on hearing bedtime stories before falling asleep. She has no idea where she came up with a story about townspeople with 2 heads.

“I always figured there would be wizards and dragons [in the story], but I didn’t expect the 2-headed boy,” she laughed. “It all just came together as I was fleshing out the stories.”

While studying for a master’s in psychology, Ms. MacLaren recalls a storyteller sharing with her class a story that might inspire children who had suffered a loss to work through some of the issues. The idea prompted her to think of storytelling as a means of conveying lessons to her young son, such as creative problem-solving and teamwork. It gave birth to the 2 distinct personalities of Popcorn and Persimmon.

“We are constantly learning how to work together with others despite our opposite ways of thinking,” she recognized. “There is never just one creative approach or solution to a problem. We have to learn to work together, and that’s exactly what [Popcorn and Persimmon] do.”

The story resonated with Ms. MacLaren’s granddaughters, though “Grandma Day Day” notes it could be because of the colorful illustrations rather than the lessons the story teaches. Megan has become particularly fascinated with the drawing of a special tree that grows in Glum, capable of instantly regenerating fruit once it’s picked. The illustration of the tree is laden with bananas, pineapple, grapes and bowls brimming with fresh produce.

“She started thinking that maybe she would like to grow a tree that would give me back whatever she picked off,” Ms. MacLaren smiled.

Megan isn’t the only 7-year-old with an interest in the magical trees and telepathic dogs of Ms. MacLaren’s narrative. The Claremont author has found the most gratification in receiving feedback from other young readers engrossed with the adventure of her redheaded twins. “It’s very humbling,” she said.

She finds it equally satisfying to share in the success.

“Being able to do this with my girlfriends, that was something. Beyond the fact that we’ve known each other for over 50 years and we are still so close is this creative, collaborative effort,” Ms. MacLaren said. “It was really great. I wish they could be here.”

For more on Ms. MacLaren and The Adventures of Popcorn and Persimmon, or to get your hands on a copy of the book, email the author at zmacone@gmail.com.

—Beth Hartnett



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