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Pa. author's book offers inspirational message for children

December 14, 1999

M.A. BaumgardnerBy RICHARD F. BELISLE / Staff Writer, Waynesboro

photo: KEVIN G. GILBERT / staff photographer




WAYNESBORO, Pa. - Buzzy Newton is a precocious bumblebee and a math whiz who, after doing some calculations, deduced that bumblebees are too fat to fly with their skinny little wings.

That, says Mary Alice Baumgardner, is a scientific fact. Baumgardner created Buzzy as the main character in her new children' book, her second to be published, called "Buzzy Newton's Terrible Discovery."

The book, which is lavishly illustrated with Baumgardner's drawings, goes on to say that Buzzy urges his fellow bees to go on diets. They do and lose weight. According to Buzzy's mathematical calculations, the bees should fly easily at that point, but they have become so weak that they can't fly at all. They don't get airborne again until they start sipping honey and regain their old weight and their strength.

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The message in Baumgardner's story is that bumblebees may be scientifically too heavy to fly, but don't tell them that.

She named Buzzy after Isaac Newton who came up with his theory of gravity, the force that holds the universe together.

Baumbardner wrote the book in the mid-1980s. It sat in her drawer with 20 other manuscripts, mostly children's books, for years waiting for a publisher. "Every once in a while I'd pull one out, send it off to a publisher and get a rejection letter back," she said. Baumgardner, a former school teacher and stay-at-home mom, has been writing, illustrating and painting for more than 30 years.

"Alexandra, Keeper of Dreams," her first book, also for children, was published in 1993. Like "Buzzy," it was published by Rocky River Publishing in Shepherdstown, W.Va.

Alexandra tells of a little duckling who wanted to be a ballerina. She was clumsy on the ground but persevered with her dream until she discovered she could dance beautifully underwater.

The book is somewhat autobiographical. Baumgardner said it reminds her to hold onto her own dream of getting more of her manuscripts published one day.

The backs of her books hold topics for discussions for the young readers and their parents or teachers. Baumgardner's books end up in classrooms. She often talks to elementary school classes about her writings.

Baumgardner and her husband, Allen, a retired Hagerstown attorney, moved to a 100-acre farm on Lyons Road 22 years ago. They reared their three sons there.

Baumgardner has a master's degree in children's book illustration from Marywood College in Scranton, Pa. She taught elementary art and high school French for about seven years until she quit to stay at home with her sons. She started writing when she was a teacher and continued to do so while her children were growing up.

She writes with pencil and paper, not a computer or even a typewriter. "I like the feel of them in my hands," she said. She also does illustrations and paints in water colors and oils, specializing in portraits.

Tragedy struck the family in June 1998, when her twin son, Michael, a college student, was killed in a car accident in York, Pa.

Except for some poetry, she stopped writing after her son died. Now, because of encouragement from her oldest son, Matthew, 27, a graphic artist in New York, the passion for writing is coming back. "There's just a time when you know it's time to get the pencil and paper out," she said.

Baumgardner, Matthew and Mark, Michael's surviving twin, are ready to start working on a video celebrating Michael's life. All three will contribute to the project, she said.

Baumgardner will be autographing copies of her new book Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. at The Book Store Etc., 53 W. Washington St., Hagerstown.

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