At 17, Del Mar author embarks on children’s book series, fantasy novel

Liana-Melissa Allen sits at her workspace, where she creates her books and illustrations, as shown here. Photo/-Claire Harlin

By Claire Harlin

For Del Mar resident Liana-Melissa Allen, what began six years ago as a fifth grade writing assignment has turned into six published books (including one Spanish version) and a children’s book series that she hopes to grow to dozens of titles. Allen may only be 17, but she currently has several draft novels on her desk and she’s quickly becoming a seasoned author.

But success didn’t happen overnight for the Torrey Pines High School junior. She knew from the time she was old enough to read that she wanted to be a writer, and she’s been blowing people away with her artwork since she was 3 years old — that’s right, she also illustrates each and every one of her books, which are available on or local shops such as Frustrated Cowboy in Del Mar and Warwick’s in La Jolla.

Allen’s passion for writing is just an extenuation of her passion for reading, she said.That passion began at a young age in a big, comfortable chair in her living room, where she would sit with her dad and read. He would read aloud and ask her to read along, stopping at random points and awarding her with popcorn if she was paying good enough attention to pick up where he left off.

“We still read aloud together,” said Allen’s dad, Paul, publicist for the well-known surf documentary, “The Endless Summer.” “It’s amazing what reading can do; It takes over your imagination and even your senses. The other day we were reading together and the characters walked into a room that smelled bad and we both smelled it. It was incredible, and that’s why people always say the movie is nothing compared to the book.”

The fifth grade assignment that really inspired Allen was a “fractured tale,” a story that is based off another story. Allen loves horses, so she wrote a spin-off of “The Three Little Pigs” called “The Three Little Horses and the Big Bully Donkey.” Her dad, who volunteers at Del Mar Heights School by reading to the kids, began incorporating Allen’s book into his story time and he said the kids loved it.

“I didn’t even tell them it was my daughter who wrote it, and these kids were so engaged,” Paul Allen said. “I was amazed how much they were into it and it didn’t even have any illustrations, so I said, ‘Liana, you have to do some illustrations because the kids loved it.’”

The kids began asking where they could get the book, and they were inspired that a kid close to their age wrote it, so the Allens decided to self-publish the book. Allen’s mom lives in Mexico, so they did a Spanish version as well.

That book sparked the idea of an entire series called “Horse Valley Adventure,” which chronicles the lives of the some 30 or more horses and other characters living in Horse Valley, a place where horses carry on their lives and interact without humans. The books feature Birdy, a little bird who follows the horses, Birdy’s cousin Binky, a “cute nuisance,” Allen said, and RJ, a horse who loves to sing and dance.

“These characters are particularly special to me because I made them up in third grade,” said Allen, who used to ride horses and loved it but quit because she didn’t want to risk injuring herself.

“I stopped taking lessons because horses are so unpredictable,” she said. “I didn’t want to risk hurting my hand or wrist and not being able to write and draw.”

Allen said each of her books contain a message, a moral to the story that she wants to give to help other kids. She said they are based on her own life, people she knows and challenges she has faced.

For example, “The Three Little Horses” is about a bully who learns the importance of friendship and taking responsibly.

“It’s about doing the best you can,” said Allen. “It’s about sticking together and working together instead of being lazy, and it teaches that bullying just creates bitterness and loneliness.”

Although Allen has six published children’s books under her belt, she’s working on two novels and she hopes to dedicate herself to her books when she graduates from high school. She’s not sure exactly what she wants to do in college, but she said she’s fascinated with history and mythology and wants to learn more in order to incorporate that subject matter into her books.

The idea for one of her novels came about years ago when she attended Del Mar Heights School. She said she used to look out from the school over Crest Canyon, near the San Dieguito Lagoon, and her imagination would take her to a place where horses lived there in that mystical place.

“It used to be foggy in the canyon in the mornings, and sometimes there would be this huge mass of fog and I imagined it being a herd of horses,” she said. “In my imagination that gave rise to the Misty Mustangs.”

The Misty Mustangs — creatures that gallop through Del Mar and they can only be seen by a little girl who attends Del Mar Heights School — are the basis of a novel she’s working on.

“The girl is a magician but she doesn’t know it,” said Allen, describing the plot. “There’s a teacher who is a celtic goddess, and she’s based on a real mythological goddess I researched.”

For those who are familiar with the Del Mar Heights School, Allen and her dad may be recognizable, as they team up each winter holiday season to perform “The Polar Express.” Allen, a longtime classical pianist, provides music and sound effects while her dad reads aloud.

At home, the two rarely watch TV and are advocates of turning it off.

“We watch movies, but no commercial TV except Chargers football,” said Paul Allen, who is working on a website called “Turn Off the TV and Read.” On the site, he hope to provide tips for parents on how to encourage more reading and writing at home.

Allen also is a big advocate of choosing books over TV — “It turns your brain off,” she said.

“It’s really important to exercise the imagination,” she said. “The stronger the imagination, the more you learn, the more you can think of things, the more you can create more things.”

To see more of Allen’s work or to find out where to purchase her books, visit her website at