A&E

Young Alamo sisters publish children's book

Monte Vista junior, Los Cerros 7th-grader poke fun at idioms in new book

Many grandparents wouldn't want to be immortalized on the cover of a children's book riding a tandem bicycle in a chicken suit -- but after all, CiCi and Sienna Cowing's grandpa has lost his marbles. At least, that's what the title of their published book says.

But it's a metaphor, said the Cowing sisters, for how using absurd expressions could make someone seem crazy, if taken literally.

"Idioms can be misinterpreted," said Candace "CiCi" Cowing, a rising seventh grader at Los Cerros Middle School and, more importantly, an idiom aficionado. "It's kind of how CiCi, the character in the book, interprets the idioms," she added, referring to the title.

"And also," said Sienna, a fellow idiom enthusiast and soon-to-be junior at Monte Vista High, "grandparents, they speak a lot differently, because they've lived longer in different eras, so they still say phrases and things that aren't used today."

With a little push from their mom, the two sisters from Alamo decided to turn their love of idioms into a tangible book, inspired by their travel-loving grandparents and, of course, those colorful turns of phrases that call to mind some interesting imagery.

Their book, "Grandpa has Lost his Marbles," was released by Mascot Books in April.

It all started as a summer project a few years ago. The two would jot down any idioms they liked -- or tickled their fancy, you could say -- and soon had a long list.

They had no intention of doing anything else with the list, but their mom, Suzann, thought it was a "neat idea" and that they should turn it into a book.

Step one, said Sienna, now 16, was going to the fount of all knowledge: the internet. They figured out how a book would be laid out, and crafted a "kind of a blueprint," with the idea of traveling grandparents sending postcards to the fictional CiCi, who doesn't understand that some phrases should be interpreted figuratively.

"We added our favorite idioms, like 'you're barking up the wrong tree,'" 12-year-old CiCi said, "and then we added something that could be used in real life on a vacation or on a trip and we kind of mashed them together."

Their book, said Sienna, was inspired by "The King Who Rained," another idiomatic children's book that pokes fun at some peculiar phrases in the English language.

In "Grandpa has Lost his Marbles," though, the Cowing family is very much woven into the storyline.

The 28-page saga is a collection of letters between a grandfather and his granddaughter, CiCi, as he and his wife travel around the world. Each letter sneaks in a different idiom: as they eat pizza and gelato in Italy, Grandpa tells fictional CiCi that his eyes are bigger than his stomach, while in Norway, the Northern Lights "really knock your socks off."

Aside from being the protagonist's namesake, CiCi does share other qualities with their fictional hero.

"She played soccer for a while, the girl in the story plays soccer," said Sienna. "CiCi had a bunny, all that kind of stuff. So it's kind of based off CiCi in that way. We didn't really choose -- we just started writing about CiCi."

And their grandparents really do love to travel. They've been to "almost all the places in the book," said Sienna. Their grandfather, to whom the book is dedicated, was flattered.

At first, Sienna started contacting big publishing houses. "And I realized, maybe that's not for us," she said. "There are a lot of rejections in that process and not the first person you contact is going to be the right one."

They began to look into self-publishing, eventually settling on Mascot Books Inc., who contacted them.

It was a learning process, involving exchanges between the girls and the publisher, compromising on a vision for the book. "They wanted it a little bit more artistic, something you would put on a wall," said Sienna. But they saw it more as a gift to a friend or a bedtime storybook, "a little bit more homey," she added. "It was very nice, we got a happy medium."

They were able to choose an illustrator, Srimalie Bassani. Each letter is accompanied by an illustration that somehow incorporates the page's featured idiom with the storyline: Grandpa "catches some Z's" on a double decker bus in London, and CiCi showers butter on her parents when Grandpa instructs her to "butter up" her parents in order to get a bunny for her birthday.

And of course, Grandpa and Grandma haven't just randomly donned chicken costumes as they bike by the Eiffel Tower -- it's because Paris makes them "feel like a couple of spring chickens."

When the book finally came out, a big stack went to CiCi's alma mater, Vista Grande Elementary School. She sat down and read it with the third grade class of her former teacher, Brooke Schroeder, leading a discussion on their writing process.

"Every teacher needs her book in their classroom library!" wrote Schroeder in an email. "As the story unfolds it teaches students about figurative language, specifically idioms, in a highly engaging and effective way. CiCi is a star and I hope she continues to accomplish great things as she has proven to be a fearless and inspired young lady."

Both CiCi and Sienna said they learned a lot throughout the whole adventure, from the publishing process to larger life lessons.

Sienna said she has no idea about her eventual career. "Right now I'm focusing on where I'm going to college," she said. "But I think that as you get older, it's just all about learning, this is a learning experience. It's taught me that I do like writing, but I don't want to be a writer."

CiCi has even longer to go before considering her future. But for now, she likes school and enjoys writing.

"This was really fun, I never thought it would turn into something big and it would get published," said CiCi. "It was skeptical at first, getting this published. As soon as the four big boxes of books came to our house, it felt like, this was real, this is happening."

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