Melanie Schnaier, a Wantagh resident of 12 years, is an educational grant writer and a teacher. What better way to merge her two talents, she thought, than writing children's books?
"Kids should be reading every day," she said. "But reading should be fun at the younger ages."
That’s why she adds as much fun to her writing as possible. Her first book, “The Juggling Clowns of the Ever Changing Circus,” was published in January — and Seaford students have the chance to read it.
Schnaier’s latest work is about 10 clowns who get bored juggling at the circus — so they take their business elsewhere. One clown, for example, juggles peanuts on a baseball field.
"It's not just funny for the sake of being funny, but to help kids learn," Schnaier said. The book not only has a humorous concept, she continued, but has educational components as well, including lessons about ordinal numbers up to the "10th clown."
Schnaier has always had a passion for education; she currently is a special education teacher in Whitestone. She explained that she "loves seeing children get excited when they learn something new."
In addition to her work in the classroom, Schnaier writes grants for schools. While she is still dedicated to putting together these special applications for funding, she knew she wanted to stretch her writing skills.
"I've always wanted to be a children's author," she said. "This book was an idea that I've had for a while and I felt like it was time."
Luckily for Schnaier, her mother, Sheila Chustek, is an artist. She illustrated the pages. "I wanted to bring her beautiful artwork to the storyline," Schnaier said.
Chustek’s art won’t be the only thing featured in copies of “The Juggling Clowns of the Ever Changing Circus,” however; at the end of the book, youngsters will find six pages with space for them to draw. Instructions on the pages ask them to draw a scenario where juggling items would make someone angry.
"It allows them to display their artwork to their peers and builds their confidence," Schnaier said. "It also gets them thinking creatively."
Schnaier has read “The Juggling Clowns of the Ever Changing Circus” to students in Whitestone and Jericho, noting that she has received positive responses full of laughter. When she visits schools, she creates an entire lesson plan — one that involved plenty of illustration.
"They're so funny," Schnaier said. "They draw people juggling iPhones and the 'cell phone man' standing to the side, looking angry."
Her 8-year-old daughter, Rachel, has also read the book to her peers at Seaford Harbor Elementary School. Schnaier said that both Rachel and her 11-year-old son, Myles, loved looking at their grandmother’s illustrations.
The mother-daughter duo is currently working on two new books. Schnaier explained that there is certainly promise for more humor to come.
In the meantime, Schnaier encourages children to read regularly and to join the summer reading programs at their local libraries. "Even reading for 15 minutes per day makes a difference," she said.
“The Juggling Clowns of the Ever Changing Circus” is on the shelves of the Seaford Public Library and at Seaford Harbor Elementary School. It’s also available for purchase on Amazon.com.