You never know when the seed of an idea will come back to inspire you. For Guilford author Jason J. Marchi, it was the routine clean-up of old documents that reminded him of a fascinating tale he'd heard 35 years prior.
Marchi, a Shore Publishing correspondent, was introduced to the legend of the Sleeping Giant-a story meant to explain the unusual geological characteristics of the Hamden/North Haven-area mountain of the same name-while a volunteer at the Peabody Museum in 1976.
"I always carried it with me in the back of my mind," says Marchi.
The legend had several appealing elements: the Sleeping Giant, a figure made of rocks who was also known as Hobbomock, was said to have become enraged by his Native American co-habitants. Hobbomock's wrath was so great that his neighbors put him to sleep to avoid persecution. What intrigued Marchi most about the legend, he says, was the idea that "eventually the sleeping spell...would wear off and Hobbomock would wake up…and I thought, 'He'd be mighty hungry!'"
Marchi jotted down a few sentences along those lines in 1996 and filed them away. By the time he found them again in 2007, he'd forgotten what he'd written-and he was impressed and motivated by it.
"I'd been writing all these years" in between (Marchi's first children's book The Growing Sweater had won several awards) "and getting experience and I said to myself, 'I can finally do something with this.'"
The next step would prove no simple task.
"I had to do lots of research-there were lots of different legends about Hobbomock and different versions...One was that he had died of a broken heart...There were some historical references within the Algonquin Federation-ancestors of the Quinnipiac tribal culture-and they had some information about how Hobbomock was a good giant and he only became angry...because of injustice-the people who were around Hobbomock no longer respected the land or celebrated it...Hobbomock had taught the Native Americans to hunt and to fish and, when he goes away to teach others, he comes back and finds out [the Native Americans] no longer speak the same language as the birds and animals; they're no longer in touch with them."
These latter references seemed the ideal foundation for what would become The Legend of Hobbomock: The Sleeping Giant. Marchi came to see his children's book as a "fictionalized account of the most logical version of what the legend might have been." Plus, Marchi thought the Native American emphasis on not wasting resources was something that would resonate with today's young readers.
Another thing about which he was certain?
"Children's books have to have child characters involved in the story, helping to find the answer."
Developing such a relatable main character was second nature to Marchi, perhaps because his own experience learning about the Hobbomock legend paralleled that of the young Quinnipiac boy he created, Blackbird. Deemed "ever the inquisitive one" by clan storyteller Rakarota, Blackbird becomes entranced by the tale of the stone giant who became so angered by the Quinnipiac ancestors he "stamped his foot into the long river of pines and caused the river to change direction." It is Blackbird who later encounters the giant and warns the rest of his tribe about him. Working together, a solution is reached.
Exquisite illustrations in oil by Rhode Island School of Design student Jesse J. Bonelli accompany the 2,000-word book geared toward ages 6 to 10.
With Hobbomock just released under his own publishing company, Fahrenheit Books, Marchi says his true gauge for success is an unexpected source: the 3½-year-old son of a friend.
"I showed [the book] to him and he grabbed it and studied the pictures...He just kept looking and looking...Children are very discerning-they see everything and they're aware of so many things," so the little boy's appreciation for Hobbomock is a positive predictor of Marchi's audience's reaction.
In between running Fahrenheit and promoting Hobbomock, how does Marchi find time to write? It takes discipline, he says.
"I find that if you don't write every day you start to become rusty…It's like a big wheel that you have to keep turning--as long as you keep that big wheel turning it won't freeze on you…but if you stop writing at all, then that wheel gets frozen in place and it's hard to get it started again.
The Legend of Hobbomock: The Sleeping Giant by Jason J. Marchi, a picture storybook for readers aged 6 to 10, is available online at www.jasonmarchi.com.
Fifty cents from every copy sold will be donated to the Sleeping Giant Park Association, Inc.