Mystic author teaches life skills through fairy tales

In 1995, author Lisa Saunders brought stories of her childhood summers on the farm to life through her children’s book “Ride a Horse, Not an Elevator.” More than 20 years later, one of those stories is coming back to teach table setting and hygiene in her latest book, “Once Upon a Placemat.”

Saunders, who lives in Mystic, has written books for both children and adults, said she received several emails from parents reading “Ride a Horse, Not an Elevator,” saying the book helped their children learn how to set the table. Saunders had included a tale in the book about her grandmother teaching her the skill when she visited her farm, and she decided to give the tale its own book.

“Once Upon a Placemat” brings the table setting to life to explain where each item goes: the fork wants his own cozy napkin bed, and the knife wants to prevent the dish from running away with the spoon. Saunders said the fun story makes it easy for children to remember how to set the table.

The story of the cup in the place setting also serves as a transition into a lesson for kids and parents about hygiene. Saunders is also the parent representative for the Congenital Cytomegalovirus Foundation, and she said “Once Upon a Placemat” can help educate people about congenital cytomegalovirus.

According to the Center for Disease Control, congenital CMV is the most common viral infection that infants in the U.S. are born with, and more than 5,000 children will have permanent problems as a result of the infection. Saunders said her second daughter was born severely disabled because of congenital CMV.

She said that while many people know that pregnant women shouldn’t clean litter boxes because of the risk of toxoplasmosis, many don’t know that they shouldn’t share eating utensils with their young children because of the CMV risk. She helped get Public Act 15-10 passed in Connecticut in May 2015 to include CMV testing in the battery of tests that newborns receive.

However, Saunders said the prevention education component of her pitch wasn’t passed due to funding, so she included an appendix in “Once Upon a Placemat” to give parents more information on congenital CMV.

She said she has received good feedback from daycares looking to promote hygiene as well as parents interested in the table setting lessons.

“Ride a Horse, Not an Elevator” was also utilized as an educational tool for children by the Cornell Cooperative Extension in New York. Jean T. Griffiths, who was the extension’s horse specialist at the time, had been working on creating a horse literacy program for children, and Saunders, a Cornell graduate, had sent her a copy of the book for consideration. Griffiths said in an email that Saunders’ book was an easy fit because it also included valuable information about health, exercise and horse and human nutrition. It became part of the “Horse Book in a Bucket,” which also included feed samples, horse breed posters and coloring sheets.

The extension is no longer making the buckets for the program, but each extension office has one to borrow, and Saunders issued a second edition that includes the fact cards and worksheets so children outside the Cornell Cooperative Extension can learn about horses.

Saunders will be doing a reading of “Once Upon a Placemat” April 26 at the Mystic and Noank Library. Her next book, “Images of Modern America: Mystic,” will be released on July 4 by Arcadia Publishing.

a.hutchinson@theday.com

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