Like many parents, Joe Sutton put his children to bed with a nighttime story. Somewhat less common is that Sutton made up his stories. More unusual still is that Sutton, a Houston-based energy executive and former Army colonel, had one of his stories published. And, to be filed under “extraordinary,” is that Sutton donates all of the proceeds from sales of his book to Children at Risk (www.childrenatrisk.org), an organization that aims to stamp out child trafficking.
“Wanda and the Oblahlahs,” (Bright Sky Press, September 2011) is Sutton’s book, a charming children’s tale starring Wanda, a gum-chewing, mischievous, yet lovable, little girl. Wanda’s misadventures turned story time into a beloved family tradition. The character Sutton dreamed up personified the young girl who did everything she shouldn’t, including chewing her gum all day and night. The tales, ranging from encounters with the obstreperous Oblahlahs to minglings with the weird green man, always made doing the right thing seem like the best choice.
“As a young parent I tried every which way to get my daughters [rambunctious young Gretchen and Megan] to mind their mom and me. One of the challenges was to get them to toss out their chewing gum at bedtime,” said Sutton, now the grandfather of five. “One approach that worked well was to tell the girls stories with carefully disguised lessons.”
Sutton’s eldest daughter, Gretchen (Sutton Setrum), remembers asking her Dad repeatedly to tell her the Wanda story as a child. “What an imagination he had! I did chew gum all of the time, and I believe he came up with the story to deter me from chewing gum at night,” said Gretchen, whose daughter Mallory, 12, also has fond memories of her granddad’s bedtime stories.
“My father was blessed with the gift of storytelling, and as far back as I can remember he always put us to bed with a story or two,” says Megan (Sutton-Reed), now married and the mother of two sons, Brady and newborn Braxton. “I remember asking to hear the ‘Wanda’ story on several of those evenings, and when friends would spend the night, they, too, would ask to hear the story,” she reminisces. “I also recall a small tray beside my bed that I would put my gum in before I went to sleep. I didn’t want to get the ‘Oblahlahs!’”
To her delight, four years ago Megan found the vintage Wanda stories in an old shopping bag in her parents’ attic, intact after 23 moves. The stories were accompanied by original illustrations created by her Aunt Jane. Jane Sutton Frawley, now an accomplished artist and mother of two, created the illustrations for “Wanda and the Oblahlahs” more than 30 years ago to accompany her brother’s story. “I like the depiction of the Oblahlahs by my sister,” Sutton reflects. “You must remember that I came up with the story, but she had to put it in pictures. I think she did a great job with these tiny little creatures.”
With Megan’s encouragement, her father decided to publish Wanda and the Oblahlahs to bring the story back to life for the next generation, including Sutton’s own grandchildren, Mallory, Delaney, Brady, Jackson and Braxton. The book will appeal to parents and grandparents, who will find that Wanda’s antics do more to illustrate the importance of minding than any amount of parental nagging. More importantly, Wanda reminds readers of the power of shared stories to create strong families.
“I am not one to give advice, but I would suggest parents spend more time reading to and telling their children stories,” Sutton says. “It is what children like and remember. It costs nothing. And it is fun. There is no substitute for parental interaction with children. Too many times parents substitute television, video games, and the Internet for that interaction. Just tell them a story, made up or real life—they love it.”
“Wanda and the Oblahlahs” is available for purchase at www.wandabooks.com and in fine Houston-area bookstores. Wanda logo items are for sale as well—water bottles, insulated lunch bags and t-shirts—that also benefit Children At Risk, www.childrenatrisk.org.
Sutton conducts book readings at libraries, school book fairs and bookstores to promote “Wanda and the Oblahlahs” book sales. If you are interested in hosting such a reading and book signing, go to http://www.wandabooks.com/?page_id=10.