Carmel Valley author seasons ‘Halloween Stew’ to young readers’ taste

By Karen Billing

It started as a “teeny little” book for her five grandchildren in 2010, a story about a crabby witch who didn’t like to share. Now Carmel Valley’s Jane Meyers is hoping to serve up “Halloween Stew” to a broader group of young readers.

Meyers’ first children’s book was printed just two weeks ago by eFrog Press in Carlsbad, on the eve of this year’s holiday, but Meyers and illustrator Cecelia Blomberg are hoping to do a big marketing push for next year’s Halloween. They already have interest from Bank Street Bookstore in New York for 2015, but this year it will be the only Halloween book carried in Thinker Things in Solana Beach. It is also available   on amazon.com and as an e-book.

Every Thursday for the past four years, Meyers has volunteered at Sage Canyon School in Jodi Lack’s first-grade classroom. Last week, Lack invited Meyers to read “Halloween Stew” to her students. The kids were engaged in the story as the once-stingy witch learned about friendship and how sharing can be the best treat of all.

“It was really the coolest thing ever,” Meyers said. “They loved it so much and applauded at the end. One little girl said, ‘I like how you read it,’ and they all wanted to get the book because they loved the pictures. And they really got the message, they talked about how the witch changes.

“It was just priceless. It was the best thing to happen since I started this process.”

A retired educator, Meyers spent 30 years in education as a teacher and administrator.

She taught at Loma Portal Elementary in Point Loma for 10 years, went on to teach junior high at Bell Middle School in San Diego and then went to the San Diego County Office of Education as a language arts coordinator. She ended her career serving as the director of reading and language arts for the county.

Upon her retirement in 2006, she started working with friend Ellie Topolovac’s non-profit Books and Beyond, which provides literacy programs for families and communities. Topolovac is a retired Solana Beach School District superintendent.

The inspiration for “Halloween Stew,” her grandchildren, now range in age from 6 to 14: Owen Ruff, a first-grader at Sage Canyon School; Andrew Ricci, a third-grader at Solana Highlands; Katherine Ruff, a third-grader at Sage Canyon School; Megan Ricci, a seventh- grader at Carmel Valley Middle; and Kaelyn Ricci, a freshman at Torrey Pines High.

Meyers has lived in Carmel Valley for the past seven years and she loves being close to her grandkids — she’s able to walk to pick up Andrew from school, and she loves their walks home, where he talks nonstop about his day.

After the book’s humble original became a favorite, her family encouraged her to publish it.

“It’s in rhyme, and I’m not a poet,” Meyers said. “The revisions were in the hundreds.”

She worked with several poets to get the rhymes and rhythms just right.

Illustrator Blomberg, who lives in Seattle, is one of Meyers’ closest friends. Their husbands were fraternity brothers, and she’d always admired her talented friend’s work.

She gave Blomberg full artistic license to bring the witch to life — wild, curly hair and rolled-up jeans under her black cloak and stew-stirring apron.

“The story remained the same but some parts I put into the book because of Cecelia’s pictures,” Meyers said. “She enhanced the story with her illustrations; she just made it better.”

The witch is a loner who each Halloween cooks up some Halloween stew made with tasty ingredients like wiggly worms, mosquito wings, frog legs and apple cores. She doesn’t want to share it with anyone, so she cooks it in a secret spot — but the bubbles made from her brewing attract creatures and ghosts who want to have a taste.

She tries to fly away with her stew, but her broom breaks, and all the creatures end up eating the spoils.

All of the witch’s perceived enemies are actually such big fans of the stew that they offer to build her a new titanium broom with special hooks so she can safely fly with her brew. The witch is so happy to have finally made some friends that her whole attitude changes:

“Zibbly-zoo! What a switcheroo! … With my new broom as you can see, I am no longer Mean-Witch-Me!”

To pair with the book, Blomberg and Meyers came up with a Halloween Stew recipe that parents can have fun making with their children, with ingredients like black rice for fleas and bugs, roasted red peppers for wiggly worms, and fennel fronds for moss. The pointy ends of dark kale leaves act as lizard tails.

“It’s really fun, because it’s very good, and the kids like it,” said Meyers, who’s brewed it up multiple times to be sure.

The recipe is written so kids can dump the ingredients in, just like the witch would.

Find the recipe, as well as activities to accompany the book, on the website,

MyHalloweenStew.com

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