The Best Book…Ever…

(c) Copyright 2017, Annalisa Hartlaub. All rights reserved.

I read the best book ever last week. The book in question is titled Dr. Sticksel & the Lucky Umbrella. It is written for elementary school readers by my daughter, Annalisa Hartlaub, who self-published it with a limited print run for a specific purpose. More on that in a moment.

Please let me explain who “Dr. Sticksel” is. He is Dr. Phil Sticksel, a highly regarded meteorologist who worked worldwide for Battelle Memorial Institute, a science and technology research organization based in the Columbus, Ohio. Battelle partnered with Longfellow Elementary Math and Science Magnet School in Westerville, Ohio, which Annalisa attended. A major element of that partnership involved Battelle providing past and present personnel to Longfellow to assist with its science program. My first contact with Dr. Sticksel was at a school function during Annalisa’s first-grade year at Longfellow. He told me by way of introduction that Annalisa was functioning at genius level and was destined for amazing things. He mentored her through elementary school and beyond. He was (to name but one instance) in attendance when Annalisa, at the time a sixteen-year-old high school student, presented a research paper at The Ohio State University School of Medicine. Dr. Sticksel, now well into his eighties, has experienced some decline in health in the last few years but still stays mentally active and has continued through me to keep up to date on Annalisa. He was thrilled to learn that she presented another research paper this past September at the 2017 IEEE VIS Conference in Phoenix. She was the only attendee to do so who did not have a degree. “One of MY students did that?!” Dr. Sticksel asked. Yes, Sir. One of your students.

Annalisa at age twenty will be closing her career at The Ohio State University in three weeks by earning a degree in neuroscience. She did, however, take the time to fulfill a long-held dream. With the assistance of a grant from OSU’s STEP program, Annalisa wrote Dr. Sticksel & the Lucky Umbrella, the book I mentioned at the beginning of this bit of logorrhea. Yes, I might be prejudiced, but it is wonderful. It tells the story of a meteorologist who, with his pet opossum, has a lucky umbrella that keeps the rain away. Every word is true, to one degree or another. Annalisa put it all together — text, artwork, and all — and had the books printed by the fine folks at bookbaby. When the books arrived we took Annalisa several miles north to Dr. Sticksel’s home and surprised him with several copies. He was stunned, overjoyed, and surprised. It is of equal importance to note that, after Annalisa slips a copy or two of Dr. Sticksel & the Lucky Umbrella to Mom and Dad, the remaining copies of the books are being donated to the Westerville Elementary school library system. Dr. Sticksel may be retired, but he will live on in the halls of the Westerville schools and in the hearts and minds of the students for years to come.

Annalisa’s father, of course, sees this new book as the springboard for sorts of potential projects. “What about a Dr. Sticksel series, like Rotten Ralph?! A cartoon show on Netflix! Action figures! A four cup cineplex movie! Greeting cards! Video games! Graphic novels!” Annalisa doesn’t want to hear it, at least not now. Perhaps she will in six months, at which point she’ll convince herself that a spinoff project is her idea. For now, however, she concurs with the observation I made as we drove away from Dr. Sticksel’s home. “You know,” I said, “I think you made him really, really happy.” Annalisa responded, “That’s all I wanted to do.” Amen to that. I can’t think of a better reason to write a book.

Photo (c) Copyright 2017, Lisa O. Hartlaub

So…authors…when the rubber hits the road, why do you write? Other than for filthy lucre, of course?  And readers…why do you read? I mean, really? What is it about reading that entertains you? Tell us, please. And Happy Thanksgiving, from my house to yours.


30 thoughts on “The Best Book…Ever…

  1. Such a beautiful, heartwarming story, Joe. You and your wife raised a special kid. What a nice way to honor a teacher who made an impact in Annalisa’s life (love her name too).

    I wrote a post about why writers write. It’s true for me, anyway. Here’s a snippet:
    We write … to heal, to satisfy, to ease our sorrow. We write … to dance, to sing, to celebrate life. We write … to entertain, to frighten, to touch lives. The reasons why we write are as varied and complex as the stories we tell. But all of us, every writer who has come before us and those who haven’t yet begun their journey, write to fulfill a need, a yearning, some may even say it’s a calling. We’re helpless to fight it. Our deep-rooted need to write was instilled early in life, often by the hand of other writers, and the overwhelming craving needs to be satisfied. So, we write.

    We chase our dreams, celebrate our victories, and pick each other up when we fall. Writers support other writers — we’re forever linked by a shared love of the written word.

  2. First! Thank you, Sue. And thanks for sharing your post again. Beautifully and wonderfully stated.

  3. OMGosh, tears, what a sweet story. Both your daughter and Dr. Sticksel sound like amazing people.

    I read genre books to feel safe and in control. It’s like riding a freaky fast roller coaster. You scream, your heart threatens to seize, but you’re buckled in and feel safe at the same time. You get to walk away (or close the book cover) at the end of the ride.

    • Priscilla, I love the roller coaster simile, particularly the part about walking away at the end. Thanks!

  4. How fortunate for Annalisa to find such a mentor early in her life. And even more fortunate that she has parents who instilled values that would prompt her to make this effort for her teacher.

    I imagine every day for the rest of his life, the good doctor will look at her book and it will bring a smile to his face, knowing he made a lasting difference for a young genius who may well go on to change the world.

    • Whoops! You almost got past me there, Debbie. Thank you. As parents, we did what we could. Annalisa has done the heavy lifting, however.

      Dr. Sticksel has been living somewhat quietly for these past few years but continues to keep up on things. He was happily stunned, I assure you. Thanks for caring.

  5. Fantastic post.
    As for why I write — otherwise, I’d have to clean house.
    As a reader, I want to escape, so those are the books I write as well.

    • Thanks, Terry. As for cleaning house…why bother? It’s just gonna get dirty again…

  6. Such a powerful and heartwarming legacy for both your daughter and her teacher. As the son of a librarian/classroom teacher, I am glad to hear this story.

    During the Thanksgiving-Christmas-Hannukah-New Year period of each year, my family is given to our memories of Sandra Baxter. She was a teacher and a friend of ours who taught in some very tough areas of our city. Still young, she passed suddenly and quietly–or so we thought.

    At her funeral. many, many of her former students, some of whom grew up in very difficult, perhaps violent, environments, flooded the service. There were teachers, police officers, former and then-present Marines, soldiers, airmen, household Moms, and others who came to remember and pay tribute to Miss Baxter. And there is today in the last school in which she taught, a Sandy’s Corner in the library.

    She touched so many lives including ours.

    It seems to me that Dr. Sticksel and Annalisa met in one of those moments in eternity that would turn into honor and blessings for many. Thank you for the story, Joe.

    • You’re welcome, Jim, and thank you for sharing your story about Miss Baxter. I hope that Sandy’s Corner stays there forever. We need to cherish and remember those who quietly make a difference, a day at a time, a person at a time.

  7. Hand to eye a few times to clear the windshield reading this, Joe. Your daughter’s a keeper, sir. Me, I write fiction for the aha. Trying to generate the moments that bring joy, release, and wow to the reader. I think your daughter has already accomplished all of this and more with her work here. Might well be one of the fondest memories she’ll have after what should be a long and successful career. Dr. Sticksel sounds like a humble yet cool person as well. Stay the course, father, mother, and daughter, and Dr. Sticksel, too. You’re all doing it right.

    • Thank you, Chris. I know exactly what you mean about the windshield. You should have been there! There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. And I’m totally with you on the “aha” aspect. It’s why I continue to read and write. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Geez, you almost make me wish I had kids. 🙂

    Seriously, great post. We all need to know there are young folks like your daughter out there.

    As for why I write — the filthy lucre, of course. I got some in the mail the other day — a check for $8.67. Today is my birthday, by the way, and I consider myself wealthy beyond all get out. And I am not talking about filthy lucre.

    Happy Thanksgiving crime dogs.

  9. Thank you for sharing this heartwarming, true story, Joe. Like others commenting, it moved me.

    This is why I read–to have an emotional experience, good or bad, that takes me out of myself and into others’ realities for a while.

    What a lovely daughter you raised.

    • Jagoda, thank you for your kind words and for sharing. You’re right…the writing has got to touch the reader somewhere, and strongly. It needs to resonate long after the book is closed. Thanks for sharing.

  10. Joe, Congratulations – to you for having such an exceptional daughter, and to Annalisa for her many accomplishments. I look forward to seeing her book on Amazon.

    I chuckled when I saw your enthusiasm for all the potential sale of intellectual property rights in a multitude of different products. Of course, she’ll need Dad to pull that off. She couldn’t find a better attorney.

    Why do I write? I find writing to be the ultimate outlet of creativity. In what other endeavor can you create anything, even a universe, from nothing. And number two, I hope to leave a legacy for my grandchildren, a way for them to remember me. Of course, a week ago, one of my granddaughters told me she never wanted to read the story again, after I gave her a short story on a scroll. I’ll get over it.

    Have a great Thanksgiving, Joe!

    • Steve, thank you for your kind words which I shall continue to attempt to earn. You really nailed it re: creating universes and leaving legacies. I hope your granddaughter will circle back and appreciate that scroll, sooner rather than later. How cool is that?

      Happy Thanksgiving to you as well, my friend.

  11. What a great story. No dry eyes here. It reminded me what a fantastic world we live in and how great daughters can be.

    As for why I write. Given how difficult it can be on your soul, it doesn’t make logical sense to actively seek rejection, but we do. The only reason i’m sure of is that I must write.

    • Brian, thanks for the reminder of how fantastic the world really is. There are deep lows, for sure, but there are also incredible highs. And your reason for writing…perfect. One must do what one must do.

  12. Would you please say thank you to your daughter for me? For her to do such a nice thing for Dr. Sticksel just touches me beyond words. I literally feel like I was there when she surprised him with the books. If we could replicate gestures like that and reduce the nastiness of people toward one another verbally and beyond, what a world it would be!

    And THAT leads into why I write what I write and read what I read. It’s about powerful relationships. For some people that’s romance. For me, it’s family relationships like the powerful impact of a good father (or the lousy impact of a bad one). It’s extraordinary friends who go to bat for you. It’s dealing with life’s problems and the world’s problems in successful ways — sometimes ways we wish we could in real life. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard people poo-poo the idea of using fiction to teach, but if a story doesn’t teach me something–even the subtlest of things, it hasn’t done it’s job.

    I write with an expectation to touch and teach, and I want to be touched and taught by the writing of others.

    • BK, thank you for your kindness and thoughtfulness. I will certainly pass your good wishes on the Annalisa. She is in New York for the Parquet Courts concert Sunday night — she saw them in Cleveland Friday night as well! — but I will tell her when she gets home on Monday, hopefully in time for class.

      Touch and teach…I love that. Thanks for sharing.

    • Thank you, Laura. We tried! I’ve learned that the best way to do it is to keep the bad company away to the extent possible.

  13. What a beautiful, heartwarming story! Aren’t daughters wonderful? My daughter is a social worker and I read a letter from a little girl that wrote to thank her for finding her such a wonderful forever home with her adoption. Her oldest daughter, at 17, is a budding artist. She is excited for me to publish my first book. There is nothing better. Both as a reader and a writer, my goal is to make others feel. Whether that is to feel love, justice, nostalgia or reflective, there is nothing better than a novel that can bring out emotion. Give your daughter a hug and tell her she is a treasure! 🙂

  14. Thank you, Rebecca. I will certainly do that. The best novels, like the best children, bring out positive emotions. Thanks for the reminder. And congratulations to you for raising a winning daughter, who in turn is raising a winning granddaughter! My oldest son is doing the same thing with his daughter, who turns 11 next week. Where does the time go?

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