Chickens headline author's book series

April 13, 2011|By MARIE GILBERT |
  • A stack of books and other objects depicting J.R.R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy was one of a variety of book-themed creations in the WV Book Faire's edible books competition Saturday in Martinsburg, W.Va.
File photo

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Imagine living in Janet Morgan Stoeke’s world.

Your neighbors are a feather-headed chicken who goes on joyrides in a farmer’s truck and a dessert-loving hedgehog whose house is decorated in pie motif.

It’s a fun and adventuresome world created by Stoeke in her award-winning children’s books.

To date, the Virginia-based writer-illustrator has penned 24 stories. No. 25 is currently on her desk, she said.

Stoeke is best known for her entertaining Minerva Louise books — quirky stories about a daffy hen and her amusing adventures.

But she also has written stories about topics close to her heart, including “Waiting for May,” inspired by her own family’s experience of adopting a little girl from China.

Fans of Stoeke’s work will have an opportunity to meet the author when she appears Saturday, April 16, at the West Virginia Book Faire at the Martinsburg Mall.

As part of the children’s program, which begins at 10 a.m., Stoeke’s presentation will center on the Minerva Louise books. She will read and share her experiences that led to the stories and then will join children in creating a story of their own.

Stoeke said spending time with her audience is something she always enjoys.

“I go into schools and libraries a lot,” she said. “I find out what will make children laugh and when I have missed the punch line. They are always curious, always enthusiastic and full of surprises -— just like Minerva Louise.”

While Stoeke finds writing children’s books a rewarding career, it wasn’t the profession she expected to pursue.

She grew up in Connecticut in an artistic family and worked at The Washingtonian Magazine designing ads.

But a dream about a chicken helped lead her down another career path.

“My first book came as a surprise,” she said. “I found out about a contest that was nearly over. I had just 10 days to send something in and I spent the first one stressing about not having any ideas.”

But then she remembered a dream she had had about a chicken sitting on a windowsill.

“So I took the image and worked on it,” she said. “Only because there were no other better ideas, that one became my entry. And it won. That was Minerva Louise.”

Stoeke said she had been an artist for most of her life and hadn’t dreamed about writing until that first book.

“It scared me but I was determined,” she said. “I think I can write well for kids because I have good memory and can recall most of my childhood vividly. And, I guess, I was an English major, too.”

Stoeke said she came up with the name Minerva while looking for type for the book’s cover.  

“The type I liked was called Minerva. I spent a little time drawing the hen and comping out a design for the cover before I had much of anything for a story. I added Louise and it seemed to perfect the way the cover should look to me. Then, all I had to do was write a story. But, by then, I had a picture in my mind. That’s what got me going.”

Stoeke said writing a children’s book isn’t as easy as some people might think.

“But having written a book is one of the greatest feelings ever,” she said. “I love it when my books are finished. And even when they are half-finished, I can enjoy the potential of them. But the part where you sweat out the words is tough.”

Stoeke said she had no idea the first Minerva book would turn out to be so popular.

“Otherwise, that first one would have had a catchier title, not just her name,” she joked.

About a half dozen books have followed in the series and feature Minerva Louise going trick-or-treating, visiting the fair and going to school.

“Someone once said she was loaded with goofy optimism,” Stoeke said of her favorite hen. “I like that description of her personality.”

Stoeke said she currently is working on the third book in her newest series called the “Loopy Coop Hens.”

“These are easy-to-read books and I love writing them,” she said. “Somehow I gravitated toward hens again. I can’t tell you why.”

Stoeke said children’s books have an appeal all their own to both youngsters and adults.

“I think adults like them, too, because it is such a uniquely visual and verbal experience,” she said. “When it is done well, the two elements play off one another beautifully, like when the melody in a song intensifies the emotional content of the words.”

Stoeke said she is looking forward to making the trip from her home outside of Washington, D.C. to the book faire in Martinsburg.

To interact with her readers is a great opportunity, she said. “I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

If you go ...
WHAT: WV Book Faire
WHEN: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, April 16
WHERE: Martinsburg Mall, 800 Foxcroft Ave., Martinsburg
COST: Daytime events are free; $30 for authors’ dinner
MORE: Go to for more information.

WV Book Faire schedule
10 a.m. — Author and vendor booths/tables open for sales and signings until 3 p.m.
• Children’s program with Janet Stoeke, author-illustrator of the Minerva Louise series
• Edgar Allan Poe, as portrayed by George Bartley
11 a.m. — Discussion about the coal mining industry with David Selby and Davitt McAteer
Noon — Judging for the Edible Books Contest
• Discussion with Jack Bass, author of nonfiction books about the American South
1 p.m. — Presentation from cookbook author Nathalie Dupree
1:45 p.m. — Edible Books Contest awards
2 p.m. — Live music from Circa Blue until 3 p.m.
6 p.m. — Reception and authors’ dinner with Eleanor Clift and Mort Kondracke. This is a ticketed event.
All daytime events are free and will be held around the gazebo near Bon Ton. The authors’ dinner costs $30 per person, and will be held in the space across from Hallmark.
Purchase tickets by today for the Clift and Kondrake dinner, go to

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