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There's Something About Maggie

The way she tells it, Maggie Lamond Simone never intended to write a children’s book. “I’m a columnist—I get in, I get out.”

But when the need arose, her first book practically wrote itself. It sprang from Simone’s desire, three years ago, to prepare her son for the impending death of the family’s golden retriever. Simone sat down and, in 20 minutes, wrote a poem in rhyming couplets called “Losing Decker.”

Then Decker rallied. Her son, Renny, had the poem, and a way to start understanding that the family dog would eventually die, and Simone suspected that other children might need something similar. She researched the topic and discovered there were few, if any, books for children that had the immediacy of what she had written.

“We need grief books for kids about the reality of pets dying,” said Simone, who writes a monthly column for Family Times. “I think people need permission to feel sad.”

She approached a publisher of issue books for kids, Journey Stone Creations LLC of Fairfield, Ohio, which initially rejected the proposal. After hearing about the need for books about grief from teachers and librarians at a conference, however, the publisher got back in touch with Simone, accepted “Losing Decker” for publication and asked whether she had any other book ideas.

Simone did, and a whimsical story originally told to her daughter, Sophie, 6, became the small picture book Sophie’s Sounds, which came out in May. Losing Decker is expected to arrive in bookstores by the beginning of 2008, and a third children’s book, Timmy and the Timepiece is scheduled to be published later that year.

Decker finally lost his battle with old age in February, when he was put to sleep. After three years of reading the poem, Renny, now 8, recovered from the death of his dog pretty quickly. “He”—and by extension, other children—“needs to know it’s O.K. to be heartbroken,” Simone said.

Sophie had wanted a cat, and not long after Decker died, Anakin, a female tiger, joined the family.

Simone has been having a busy year for books. Two of her columns are included in Chicken Soup anthologies—Chicken Soup for the New Mom’s Soul and Chicken Soup for the Soul in Menopause. The juxtaposition of the two titles amuses Simone greatly.

Simone has written the Family Times Mom’s the Word column since 2003. The Baldwinsville mother previously wrote a weekly column for the Syracuse Sunday Herald American and has been published in Cosmopolitan and two other anthologies, Misadventures of Moms and Disasters of Dads and Hello, Goodbye.

Since joining the ranks of Family Times contributors, Simone, 45, has revealed her parenting foibles and flaws, sparing none of the embarrassing details. Her honesty has earned her four awards from the Parenting Publications of America, a national trade association of newspapers and magazines. Simone has written strikingly on topics such as breaking her 6-month-old daughter’s leg in a fall on a flight of stairs, and the tricky task of telling her son about being a recovering alcoholic.

That honesty will serve her well for her next big project, a nearly completed memoir about self-injuring to be called Body Punishment. Simone’s self-destructive acts began when she was 10, and some continue to this day. “It’s a very taboo subject,” she said. “It can’t be anymore. ... I don’t want Sophie to have that struggle.”

Anyone who has ever met Simone or heard her monthly radio conversations with Ted Long and Amy Robbins on WNTQ-FM 93.1 (93Q) knows how funny she can be. She laughs at herself, and inspires others to acknowledge and accept their own faults. “Developing my sense of humor was the first socially acceptable coping mechanism I had,” she said.

During her studio session with Family Times photographer Mike Davis, Simone’s constant refrain was “no cleavage!” while she yanked up the wayward neckline of her top. Luckily for her readers, when it comes to words, Simone is brave enough to bare it all.

© Family Times: The Parenting Guide of Central New York