Three years ago, Bryony Williams Sheppard’s daughter, Sydney, developed an interest in time zones. Then 6 years old, she was curious about the time in other countries, often asking her mother and grandmother, Gina Cascone, “What time is it in China? What time is it in Italy? What time is it in England?”
Sheppard decided to put a map with clocks around the world on Sydney’s wall, but Cascone, a professional writer, had another idea.
Cascone, a Lawrence resident, and Sheppard of Ewing teamed up to write a children’s book, Around the World Right Now, which was illustrated by Olivia Beckman and published on May 15, 2017 by Sleeping Bear Press. In August, the two wrapped up their 75-bookstore tour promoting the book.
The picture book is an exploration of one moment in time in all 24 time zones, and is designed to introduce children to the countless different cultures on the planet. With each time zone, the book showcases a unique cultural activity that happens only in that location around that time.
While Cascone, 61, is a professional writer, the idea for the story’s plot actually came from Sheppard, 37, a preschool teacher. She says whenever her students come to her with questions, she tries to lead the students to the answer, rather then giving it to them outright.
“Every now and then they ask me questions, and I can’t find the right book to answer their questions,” she said. “So I come up with really good ideas for books when I’m talking to the kids, and I complain to my mother that I want her to take care of it. Somehow, she just sucked me into this project.”
The process from the idea to the publication of the book took over two years, and the mother-daughter pair faced their fair share of obstacles. Even though Cascone has vast experience with writing, she believes this project was one of her toughest. This was her first picture book, she said.
Cascone has written for adults, teachers and older children, but she said it’s easier to write for adults and teens. For children, though, she has to set an entire scene in a couple of sentences without sacrificing imagery but while still being cognizant of the vocabulary she’s using.
“The other thing about this audience: don’t try to fool them,” she said. “They are honest, and you can’t get anything past them, so you better be true.”
Furthermore, as each time zone in the story grew later in the night, it became harder to find a culturally exclusive activity. So the women had to research.
“When we got to 4 a.m., the time zone covered Hawaii, and we couldn’t imagine what was happening there at that time, so we called a library in Hawaii and spoke to the librarian, explained our project, and asked what could possibly be happening at that time that would be interesting to children.”
The librarian gave Cascone and Sheppard a couple of choices, and they eventually decided to focus on dedicated surfers, who might hit the waves in the early morning hours before getting ready for work.
Although the process was hard, Cascone believes that the pair worked well naturally since “Bryony has always been my creative consultant, especially when I was writing for teens and younger kids. I would talk (stories) over and see which way I should go with it.”
Cascone and Sheppard learned a great deal about both the real world and the publishing world while working on the book. Since both of Sheppard’s parents work in publishing, she was “fairly certain that I knew everything there was regarding publishing, when in reality I knew very little,” she said. “It’s a long process, it takes a lot of patience, and while I’ve seen my mother and father deal with all of this, I’ve never actually been a part of it until now.”
Sheppard also admitted that before writing the book, she felt “pretty knowledgeable when it comes to different places around the world.” However, through research and exploration, she learned much more, a sentiment that she hopes the readers of the book will share.
Overall, Sheppard believes the process was “long, but definitely worth it.” Cascone admits that they could not have done this alone, and along with the help of each other, they were supported by great colleagues.
Their publisher, Sleeping Bear Press, is located in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and their editor, Barb McNally, was detail-oriented and had a great sense of humor, Cascone said. Beckman’s illustrations really made the book pop, she added, “When Bryony and I saw the work she had done, we went back to our notes and found that she had outdid every expectation we had,” Cascone said. “She currently lives in Germany and paints murals on walls of children’s hospitals, so the artwork couldn’t be nicer. Our agent, Andy Ross, was also wonderful. So it takes a village, it really does.”
‘It’s a collaboration between a mother and a daughter. The absolute joy and laughter that we had during the process is priceless.’
Sheppard also thanked her daughter, and Cascone exclaimed that the “book was made with the power of three generations.” Cascone also attributed their success to booksellers, who she calls “unsung heroes.”
“These are the people who read the books, speak to authors and help others in the stores,” she said. “Booksellers are absolutely integral in getting the word out and disseminating great information and entertainment.”
While the book is meant for children, the authors believe that it can be equally entertaining and educational for adults. “We tried to put some jokes in there for parents,” Sheppard said. “One of my favorite pages, the one that makes me always laugh, is that ‘It’s 11 a.m. in Rio and a girl from Ipanema goes walking on the beach,” a reference to the standard “The Girl from Ipanema.”
After seeing the success and impact of the first book, the duo are currently working on other ideas in the Around the World theme, such as sports, food and homes. The pair hope that children and adults alike around the world will enjoy their book, but their satisfaction came from the personal impact of the project.
Cascone is a writer by profession since 1984. Some of her books are Deadtime Stories and Life Al Dente: Laughter and Love in an Italian-American Family. She was born in Trenton, lives in Lawrenceville and attended Boston University. Her husband, Roger Williams, is 62, and she has two children, Bryony and Roger, who is 41.
Sheppard is a preschool teacher at Princeton Junior School. She was born in Hamilton, lives in Ewing, and studied at Emerson University. Her husband, Kevin Sheppard, is 38, and she has two children, Sydney, 9, and Ewan, 3.
“I’ve read the book to my son, my preschoolers, and my daughter’s third grade class last year, and it was fantastic to watch the questions and the excitement and the ideas that these kids have about something I produced,” Sheppard said. “It’s just been such a joy to watch them come up with all these ideas, because this is what my goal as a teacher is, to excite and provoke playful thoughts and having them want to explore the world.”
Cascone touched on the warmth and enjoyment gained from the project even before publication. “It’s a collaboration between a mother and a daughter. The absolute joy and laughter that we had during the process is priceless. The fact that it came from my granddaughter, my daughter’s daughter, and that we’ve learned so much, was wonderful. We feel that this is a very important message at this particular point in time, that all around the world, yes we do things differently, but we’re really all the same at heart. And that’s really the crux of it all.”